WRC regular Mikko Hirvonen leads the Intercontinental Rally Challenge's (IRC) Monte Carlo Rally after day one, heading a pack full of Peugeot 207s, led by defending series champion Kris Meeke.
“I was expecting today’s leg to be the most difficult of the rally,” said Meeke. “I had never been to this part of the ArdÃ¨che region before, and I had no previous knowledge of either the Burzet or Saint Pierreville-Antraigues which are both classic Monte Carlo stages.”
“There was lingering snow during recce, but that’s all gone now, so my notes really weren’t perfect.”
Meeke ended the first day 41.9 seconds behind Hirvonen, in an M-Sport built S2000 Ford Fiesta.
However, Meeke spent most the day further down the order before problems hit some of his Peugeot teammates.
Frenchman Sebastien Ogier, who won last year's Monte Carlo Rally, was running second to Hirvonen ahead of the third stage, where he went off allegedly on a patch of snow put on the road by spectators. While he was able to continue with only minor damage he lost two minutes.
“I’m in a much better position after the opening day than I was on last year’s event,” recalled Ogier. “The gaps on this event have less significance than they do on other rallies. OK, I’ve lost a bit of ground, but I’m still in with a chance of winning.”
Worse was to affect Stephane Sarrazin.
The former F1 and WRC Subaru driver had been promoted to second by Ogier's delay he was struck by a puncture on the day's fourth and final stage and decided to change the tyre on stage, losing nearly three minutes and dropping to eighth overall.
That left Meeke in second, as he moved clear of Finn Juho Hanninen in the first of the Skoda's, while Guy Wilks' lies tenth after losing 20 seconds to a spin on stage four.
Overall standings after day one (four stages)
1. Hirvonen/Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta S2000), 1h 34m 1.8s
2. Meeke/Nagle (Peugeot 207 S2000), +41.9s
3. Hanninen/Markkula (Skoda Fabia S2000), +1m 4.4s
4. Vouilloz/Veillas (Skoda Fabia S2000), +1m 20.3s
5. Ogier/Ingrassia (Peugeot 207 Super 2000), 1m 51.1s
6. Magalhaes/Magalhaes (Peugeot 207 S2000), +2m 28.1s
7. Gardemeister/Tuominen (Fiat Abarth S2000), +2m 43.2s
8. Sarrazin/Renucci (Peugeot 207 S2000), +3m 15.8s