MONACO — In the closest-ever finish to the Monte Carlo Rally, world champion Sebastien Ogier beat main rival Thierry Neuville by just 2.2 seconds on Sunday to win the season-opening race.
It was the six-time world champion’s sixth straight win at Monte Carlo — and seventh overall.
Ogier’s victory also gave Citroen a symbolic 100th win in rally history. The 35-year-old Frenchman has re-joined Citroen, after racing for the French manufacturer at the start of his career before joining Volkswagen and then Ford.
Ogier led by 4.3 seconds overnight, but was hampered by a throttle problem and Neuville closed the gap to 0.4 seconds before Ogier pulled away from the Belgian driver at the end.
"It is the rally I want to win the most in the season, that is why I am so happy now," Ogier said. "It was tough today because we had a problem with a sticking throttle which was pushing the car when I was on the brakes. Six years in a row with three different cars — that’s not so bad."
Neuville is seeking his first world title after finishing runner-up four times to Ogier, including the past three years driving for Hyundai.
"It was a close fight," the 30-year-old Neuville said. "But we gave him a nice present on Friday when we made a mistake and gave him the lead."
Drivers dealt with tricky conditions, notably ice and dry asphalt in the mountainous areas.
Estonian driver Ott Tanak completed the podium, but the Toyota driver trailed more than two minutes behind Ogier.
Nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who only drives occasionally in rally since retiring, finished in fourth place. The 44-year-old Frenchman’s winning reign ended with a ninth straight title in 2012, and then Ogier’s overall title-winning streak started.
The next race is Rally Sweden from February 14-17.