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2011 Monte Carlo Rally: Hanninen Dominant On Day 1

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4 Stages, 128.37 km

Reigning Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Juho Hanninen holds a commanding 44.5 second lead in the Monte Carlo Rally after the opening day's stages. The Finn won two of the four stages in his Skoda Fabia S2000.

SS1: Le Moulinon-Antraigues (36.87 km)

With the running order determined from the reversal of the top ten seeds, it was left to Guy Wilks to open the centenary edition of the Monte Carlo Rally, on his debut for Peugeot UK. The Briton made an impressive start, finishing the stage in third.

Running second on the stage was Wilks' replacement at Skoda UK, Andreas Mikkelsen. Things got off to a terrible start for the young Norwegian, who clouted a wall with the rear-left quarter of his car just a few corners into the stage. He stopped to try and change the wheel, but had to limp on through the stage, finishing down in 94th place, over nine minutes down, before retiring.

Stephane Sarrazin was the surprise pacesetter on the opener, the sportscar ace setting an impressive time. Hanninen however was only 0.3 seconds off the Frenchman's time. The pair's speed had been so quick that they were twenty seconds ahead of third-placed Wilks. French champion Bryan Bouffier came in fourth just behind Wilks, ahead of Freddy Loix and Petter Solberg.

Mikkelsen was not the only frontrunner to hit trouble on the opening stage. Fellow Skoda driver Nicolas Vouilloz lost more than three minutes changing a damaged tyre, while Henning Solberg lost over four minutes with a puncture on his Ford Fiesta. Proton endured a miserable start, with Chris Atkinson stopping with electrical problems, while Peugeot Belgium's Thierry Neuville crashed out.

SS2: Burzet-St Martial (41.06 km)

Hanninen surged into the lead after the second stage, which he won by fifteen seconds. Sarrazin struggled with his soft tyres, finishing down in eighth and dropping to second, 35.6 seconds down on Hanninen. Solberg and Loix finished second and third on SS2 respectively, moving Loix up to third and Solberg up to fourth. This relegated Wilks down to fifth and Bouffier to sixth, the Peugeot pair still virtually inseparable.

Both Protons - Per-Gunnar Andresson here - were among the casualties of day one

Following his tyre problems on the opener, Henning Solberg dropped out of the rally with suspension damage on SS2, as did the second Proton of Per-Gunnar Andersson.

SS3: St Bonnet-St Bonnet (25.22 km)

Hanninen extended his lead with victory on SS3, the first of two loops around the village of St Bonnet. Loix was second fastest, moving the Belgian ahead of Sarrazin into second in the overall standings.  Despite losing intercom with his co-driver during the stage, Sarrazin still managed to be fourth quickest.

Peugeot drivers Giandomenico Basso and Toni Gardemeister both suffered punctures on SS3, dropping them down the order.

SS4: St Bonnet-St Bonnet (25.22 km)

On the repeat loop around St Bonnet, Loix defeated fellow Skoda man Hanninen, but only by seventh tenths. This left the Finn's advantage at the top of the overall leaderboard at 44.5 seconds.

Solberg was again third on the stage, allowing him to follow Loix in jumping ahead of Sarrazin into third overall. He is 10.8 seconds behind the Belgian, but just two tenths ahead of Sarrazin. Wilks is in fifth after his first day for Peugeot UK, but will have to look out for Jan Kopecky, who has moved up to sixth after a slow start to the day, now just seven seconds behind Wilks.

Kopecky has pushed Bouffier down into seventh, just ahead of the returning Francois Delecour, who enjoyed a solid day. He is joined in the top ten by fellow Frenchmen Jean-Sebastien Vigion and Julien Maurin.

Vouilloz, Gardemeister and Basso are 12th, 13th and 15th after their punctures, with former Formula 1 driver Alex Caffi 14th. Pierre Campana leads the 2WD Cup in 16th overall, two places ahead of Florian Gonon, the leading Production Cup runner.

Other notable runners include single-seater driver Adrien Tambay, who is 23rd in his Peugeot 207 R3T. Reigning 2WD champion Harry Hunt is down in 56th overall after going off the road on the opening stage. British journalists Tony Jardine and Byron Young are 69th in their Ford Fiesta, while Daniel Elena, who usually sits alongside world champion Sebastien Loeb, is 74th behind the wheel of a Citroen DS3 R3T in his home event.

SS4 had to be stopped when Michel Boetti crashed his Peugeot 207. Boetti suffered a broken leg and was flown by helicopter to hospital in Lyon to undergo treatment. The drivers behind him were given the time that they had recorded on the first pass through the stage.

Guy Wilks - in his first rally for Peugeot after leaving Skoda - ended the day fifth

Overall standings after four stages:

1. Juho Hanninen (Skoda) 1h11m33.4s

2. Freddy Loix (Skoda) + 44.5s

3. Petter Solberg (Peugeot) + 55.3s

4. Stephane Sarrazin (Peugeot) + 55.5s

5. Guy Wilks (Peugeot) + 1m18.7s

6. Jan Kopecky (Skoda) + 1m26.3s

7. Bryan Bouffier (Peugeot) + 1m36.2s

8. Francois Delecour (Peugeot) + 1m52.4s

9. Jean-Sebastien Vigion (Peugeot) + 3m11.3s

10. Julien Maurin (Ford) + 3m53.2s

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