Rally Monte Carlo: Neuville takes early lead over Ogier

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Thierry Neuville took the early lead of Rallye Monte-Carlo after Thursday night's two selective sections, and put his Hyundai 7.8 seconds clear of Sebastian Ogier Ford Fiesta WRC.

The Belgian's i20 Coupe WRC performed well on the opening pair of asphalt stages that were largely dry and devoid of any meaningful snow and ice. He was quickest on both tests, despite the handling of his brand-new car not being completely to his liking.

"Everything was okay, but the car was moving a bit too much on the super soft tyres. I didn't like that," Neuville explained. "But I wasn't really pushing and the time was still good. I think there are some improvements we can make for tomorrow."

Ogier's new career as an M-Sport World Rally Team driver got off to an understandably cautious start with the reigning world champion having only spent a limited amount of time testing his new Ford Fiesta WRC. But he was happy with his and the car's performance on the opening pair of tests.

The Frenchman said: "I definitely took it on the safe side. It's hard to find the limit in these conditions. I'm sure we can go faster but these are the first stages of the year and the aim is to be safe."

Neuville and Ogier were the only two drivers to complete the opening two stages in their entirety after Hayden Paddon's roll on SS1 forced the cancellation of the 21.25km test at Entrevaux - Ubraye. All of the crews running behind the accident are expected be awarded a notional time for stage one by the organisers.

When the action got back under way, Juho Hänninen gave the brand-new Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team something to smile about. The Finn's Toyota Yaris WRC was third fastest on SS2 and Hänninen's performance was even more impressive given that his more experienced team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala was only in ninth place.

"It was not an easy start because we had to wait 30 mins before the stage and everything was cold," Hänninen said. "I know the Yaris is good – it's up to the driver to perform now!"

Kris Meeke's new Citroën C3 WRC narrowly edged out Ott Tänak's Fiesta for fourth place, while Welshman Elfyn Evans netted sixth place on his return to the driving seat of an M-Sport prepared World Rally Car.

Craig Breen was next up in his 2016-spec Citroen DS 3, while Dani Sordo and Latvala completed the World Rally Car leaderboard.

Citroën's third factory car of Sébastien Lefebvre failed to make it to the end of SS2 after stopping in the stage with an unknown mechanical issue.

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