(Reuters) - Triple world champion Sebastien Ogier won the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally for the third year in a row for Volkswagen on Sunday.
The Frenchman, who also won the final power stage for three bonus points, finished one minute and 54.5 seconds clear of Norwegian team mate Andreas Mikkelsen with Belgian Thierry Neuville third for Hyundai.
Ogier had started Sunday’s final leg of rallying’s most famous race through the snow and ice of the French Alps with a lead of nearly two minutes and he maintained that comfortably through the final three stages.
His two main challengers had retired on Saturday -- Britain’s Kris Meeke damaging the gearbox on his Citroen DS3 while Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala slid into a ditch and broke his Volkswagen’s suspension.
Latvala was also handed a suspended ban and 5,000 euro ($5,395.50) fine after knocking over a spectator at low speed as he skidded off and then continuing briefly before retiring.
“I didn’t see anything due to the smoke coming out of the engine and the mud on the windscreen after we came out of the ditch,” the Finn said later.
The victory was Ogier’s fourth in total in Monte Carlo, the Frenchman having also triumphed in 2009 when it featured as a round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge rather than the World Rally Championship.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ian Chadband