World champion Ogier wins season-opening Monte Carlo rally

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GAP, France (AP) Three-time world champion Sebastien Ogier won the season-opening Monte Carlo rally in style on Sunday, taking two of the three stages to clinch a third straight win at his favorite race.

The Frenchman led overnight from Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway, and finished nearly two minutes ahead of his Volkswagen teammate for his 33rd career victory.

“This rally is the most important of the season for me,” Ogier said. “So emotional to be able to do it here in Monte Carlo.”

Just like on Saturday, Ogier won the day’s opening stage – beating Hyundai drivers Dani Sordo of Spain and Belgian Thierry Neuville, who finished the race in third place overall.

Mikkelsen won the next stage, with Sordo again second, but clawed back only 13.6 seconds on Ogier, who was down in seventh spot.

Ogier won the final power stage ahead of Sordo and Mikkelsen, collecting three bonus points to go with his win.

The power stage was a testing 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from Col de l’Orme to St. Laurent in the French Alps.

It started with a climb up Col de L’Orme – a mountain pass that features on the Tour de France cycling race – on old and bumpy tarmac, followed by a fast downhill finish featuring several hairpin bends to test drivers’ nerves.

Ogier completed it in a little over eight minutes to cap a fine race.

“I’m very happy. I have to thank my team and especially my gravel crew; they’ve done a great job,” Ogier said. “The car was perfect, I’m so happy to take this win for Volkswagen.”

Meanwhile, Jari-Matti Latvala, who abandoned overnight because of front suspension damage to his Volkswagen, was given a suspended one-race ban and fined 5,000 euros ($5,400) after hitting a spectator on Saturday.

The spectator got straight back up after being clipped by the front of Latvala’s car, but the Finnish driver was punished by race stewards – who viewed on-board images of the incident – for not stopping to check as he carried on driving.

The suspended ban is in force for the rest of the season.

“My visibility was hampered briefly by thick steam from the engine and mud that had sprayed up from the ditch. I saw a spectator jump to the side and drove slowly back to the road,” Latvala said. “The team contacted me after the stage and informed me that I had touched a spectator. As I said, I am very sorry about the whole incident.”

The next rally is in Sweden in three weeks’ time.