NINE IN SIGHT: Sebastien Loeb steers his Citroen DS 3 during the second stage of the Monte-Carlo Rallye's 80th edition. IMAGES: AFP
MONTE CARLO - Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala rolled out of the season-opening Monte Carlo rally on Wednesday while Citroen's eight times world champion Sebastien Loeb made sure of the overnight lead after the first leg.
Latvala, now his team's main man after the departure of Mikko Hirvonen to Citroën, had led five times Monte winner Loeb by 30 seconds before the day's final fourth stage but the Finn was forced to retire after his accident.
Team principal Malcolm Wilson said: "(Co-driver) Mikka (Anttila) called a note about a tightening corner with ice in it. Jari was looking for the ice and didn't register the tightening part of the call. The car slid wide, hit a wall and rolled over it."
Loeb ended up with the fastest time in three of the four stages, despite a poor tyre choice early on a cold but dry day on icy mountain roads around Valence.
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Spain's Dani Sordo was second in a Mini, one minute 4.2 seconds adrift
of Loeb, with Norway's Petter Solberg third for Ford and a further
FENCE-SITTER: Finnish driver Jari-Matti Latvala's Ford Fiesta is seen after a crash during the fourth stage of the 2012 season-opener.
Sordo hit a bridge with the rear of his car while braking through a left corner on the second stage and then ploughed into a snowbank, losing around 15 seconds as he backed out.
"I keep being asked if I can challenge Sebastien Loeb for the win, but after the last stage I am not sure I can as his time was incredible," said the Spaniard.
The rally, always the most glamorous on the calendar, returns to the FIA championship this year after three years' absence.
However the season has started under a cloud, with promoters North One Sport having their contract cancelled 10 days ago by the governing FIA after the parent company went into administration.
Eurosport has stepped in to provide television and internet coverage of the opening event while the Automobile Club de Monaco has taking care of timing and tracking.