Sebastien Loeb began the new World Rally Championship campaign in typically dominant fashion today, taking victories on three of the opening day's four stages to secure a commanding early lead at a snowy Monte Carlo Rally.
The reigning nine-time champion will not defend his title in 2013 after committing to just four rallies this year, but he has vowed to go all out for wins in those races he does contest and was as good as his word as he built up an 80-second lead at the end of the first day.
The standings were shrouded in uncertainty for several hours this afternoon after the WRC's new timing system was struck by technical gremlins during stage three.
Most teams estimated that Loeb was leading by over a minute from the chasing pack, and so it proved when the rally organisers were finally able to verify the timings.
With an allocation of just 30 winter tyres, Loeb was among the drivers who elected not to run with studded tyres on all four corners of his Citroen on the relatively dry third stage, instead running a combination of two regular tyres and two winter.
The tyre issue provides the drivers with a balancing act that Loeb expects to continue throughout the weekend.
"It's not so nice to drive without full studs but I think this is the fastest way to do it," said Loeb.
"We need to think about how we use our snow tyres. I expect more snow tomorrow and on Friday. We have to take care and think like that."
Loeb's nearest challenger, Sebastien Ogier, impressed at the wheel of the new Volkswagen challenger, the Frenchman winning the rally's opening stage in his Polo before being forced to play second fiddle to his compatriot for the remainder of the day.
Mikko Hirvonen ended the opening day in third place, 26 seconds down on Ogier, with factory Citroen team-mate Dani Sordo in fourth and the second VW of Jari-Matti Latvala fifth.