Craig Breen and co-driver Paul Nagle claimed third place at the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally as France's Sebastien Loeb became, at 47, the oldest driver to win a round of the world championship.

In his first full World Rally Championship campaign, Waterford native Breen was on course for the podium ahead of Sunday's final four stages and the M-Sport Ford driver duly delivered, recording a time two seconds off Loeb's on stage 14 to make a good start to the final day.

Breen and Killarney man Nagle eventually finished 1:39.8 behind the Frenchman to claim third spot in the overall standings, with Sebastien Ogier ahead in second.

"I'm really happy to bring home a podium place," he said afterwards.

"It's a lot more than we would have imagined beforehand, having not done the rally in a good few years. It was always going to be one of the tougher ones.

"We held our ground, improved with every day, managed to up the pace a little bit and another step today.

"To finish on the podium is a great start to the championship."

Loeb, a nine-time world champion, also driving for M-Sport Ford, was taking part in his first rally since 2020, and took a record-equalling eighth career Monte Carlo victory after late drama for closest rival Ogier.

The victory was Loeb's 80th in the world championship and first since Spain in 2018, when he was with Citroen.

The Frenchman also finished second in the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia this month.

Compatriot Ogier, who has won the the world title and Monte Carlo eight times and is now competing part-time for Toyota, led overnight but suffered a puncture to his car's front-left tyre on the penultimate stage.

Loeb's new co-driver Isabelle Galmiche became the first woman to stand on top of a world rally championship podium since Italy's Fabrizia Pons partnered winner Piero Liatti in Monte Carlo in 1997.

Breen's third place gives him 15 points in the drivers' championship, with Loeb leading the way on 27 after round one.

Toyota's Kalle Rovanpera took five bonus points for winning the final Power Stage, ahead of team mate Elfyn Evans and Hyundai's Thierry Neuville.

Loeb took two bonus points for fourth and Ogier one for fifth.

The next round of the championship is in Sweden on 24-27 February.

Additional reporting: Reuters