Belgian Thierry Neuville won the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally for Hyundai on Sunday and ended Sebastien Ogier’s bid for a record eighth victory and seventh in a row in the principality.
Neuville finished the final power stage 12.6 seconds clear of six-times world champion Ogier, who ended up 1.7 seconds ahead of his third-placed team mate Elfyn Evans on their Toyota debuts.
It was Hyundai’s and Neuville’s first win in Monte Carlo, with the Belgian missing out by 2.2 seconds last year when Ogier won for Citroen.
“The target was to win this rally and take revenge and it feels good right now,” he said.
“Monte Carlo is one of the most historic events that every WRC driver wants to win at least once, and we’ve done it.”
Welshman Evans had led overnight with the top three separated by just 6.4 seconds, but Neuville won all four of Sunday’s slippery asphalt stages in the French Alps to go from third to first.
Neuville, who won nine of the 16 stages in total, took five bonus points by winning the final power stage, 0.016 faster than Frenchman Ogier.
“We’ve really been able to increase our feeling and comfort in the car the past few days. I could really push, and we’ve seen the results from the stage times,” said the Belgian.
M-Sport Ford’s Finnish driver Teemu Suninen took three bonus points for third in the stage, Evans two for fourth and M-Sport’s Esapekka Lappi one for fifth.
Lappi ended the rally fourth overall, ahead of Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera and nine-times world champion Sebastien Loeb in sixth for Hyundai.
Estonia’s world champion Ott Tanak, who switched from Toyota to Hyundai at the end of last season, crashed out of the rally on Friday.
Champions Hyundai lead Toyota by two points in the overall manufacturers’ standings.
M-Sport finished in the points for a record 250th successive rally.
The next round is in Sweden on Feb. 13-16.