IN TOP FORM AS USUAL Sebastian Loeb (left) poses with 2014 WRC champion Sebastien Ogier at the 2015 Monte Carlo Rally. Image: AP/ Lionel Cironneau
GAP, France - Sebastien Loeb enjoyed a flying start to his campaign to capture an eighth Monte Carlo Rally title when he edged out 2014 WRC champion Sebastien Ogier in the first two stages of the 83rd 'Monte'.
Loeb, a nine-times WRC champion, is competing in the championship for the first time in 15 months and his run for Citroen in Monte Carlo is his only scheduled appearance of the 2015 season.
He triumphed in the frigid conditions of the principality seven times from 2003-13 and shook off the cobwebs on Thursday (Jan 22).
'FROZEN FROM START TO FINISH'
Loeb said: "It was OK but there's a lot of gravel at every corner - gravel and mud - so it's very difficult." He ended the day with a 13.3sec lead over Ogier.
Ogier kicked-off Stage 1 as defending champion and, like most of his rivals, found the icy 20km conditions a difficult experience despite using studded Michelin tyres. He said: "It was frozen from start to finish so I started cautiously. The race is a long one."
The opening stage took place from Entrevaux to Rouaine, a route unused for the rally since 1983.
Loeb started the race 28 minutes behind Ogier in 14th place and finished the stage 30 seconds ahead as the veteran took advantage of mild driving conditions.
Ogier was back on pace during Stage 2 (Norante to Digne-les-Bains) over the Col du Corobin ascent. He said: "It was different with fewer traps."
EARLIER IN THE WEEK...
On Wednesday (Jan 22) hundreds of spectators braved the rain and freezing temperatures to cheer on Loeb. His last full season was in 2013 when he announced his retirement before entering four races in 2014.
Loeb said: "It's not a return because I'm just doing one rally, it's a passage. I've come to enjoy myself and to please the public, it's a little rally with Daniel (Elena, his co-driver) to re-live some good memories.
"If we manage to join in the battle it will be even better but there are a lot of factors which will be difficult to manage."
Ogier said Wednesday (Jan 22) that he was relaxed despite defending his title: "I'm more relaxed at the start of this year because if things don't go as well (in Monaco and Sweden), I'll be better placed on the road in the following rallies and I'll have a less difficult task.
"I feel I'm heading for a strange season. The motivation is still there - but it's different."
Results from Day 1 of the WRC season-opening Monte Carlo Rally after two of 15 special stages
1 Sebastien Loeb, France, Citroen 30min8.2
2 Sebastien Ogier, France, VW +13.3
3 Jari-Matti Latvala, Finland, VW +36.1
4 Ott Tanak, Estonia, Ford +38.6
5 Elfyn Evans, Britain, Ford +47.4
6 Kris Meeke, Britain, Citroen +59.8
7 Andreas Mikkelsen, Norway, VW +59.9
8 Thierry Neuville, Belgium, Hyundai +1mn06.8
9 Mads Ostberg, Norway, Citroen +1min08.7
10 Henning Solberg, Norway, Ford +1min17.6