Waterford's Craig Breen maintained his fine form at the season-opening Monte Carlo rally where eight-times world champion Sebastien Ogier looks set for a record ninth victory.

Ogier takes a 21-second lead over old rival Sebastien Loeb into Sunday's final stages, and while neither driver is competing full time this season, the icy roads in the French Alps around Monte Carlo are an old battleground for greats who between them have won 17 of the last 18 world championships.

Breen was in third place for M-Sport Ford, 64.9 seconds behind Loeb.

"What a day it has been for us in the French Alps!" said Breen on social media after the day's racing.

"As we head back the long road to Monaco we lie in 3rd place, with only 4 stages left in the rally tomorrow. A bit surreal, but a great day for the team."

Loeb, now 47 and driving for M-Sport Ford in his first WRC rally since 2020, has won the event seven times and started Saturday as the overnight leader.

Ogier took back the lead in Saturday's penultimate stage and was then 16.1 seconds quicker than the nine-times world champion in the 20km final stage after a late change of tactics.

"I was planning to go with the snow tyres because that was the safest option but I saw that Seb was going for slicks so I swapped at the last minute before the start," said the Toyota driver.

Loeb felt the gap was now a bit too far to catch up.

Toyota's Elfyn Evans, last year's overall runner-up, had been third but crashed off the road in the morning and dropped out of the reckoning.

Sunday features two stages run twice with bonus points in the final Power Stage and 67.26km of competitive action before the ceremonial finish in Monaco's Casino Square.