World Champion Sebastien Ogier won three of five stages Friday to take the lead in the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, while Robert Kubica had to retire after skidding off the road on the second day of the race.
Ogier led fellow Frenchman Bryan Bouffier by 51.1 seconds. Kris Meeke of Britain slipped to third, 1 minute, 38 seconds off the lead. Mads Ostberg of Norway and Jari-Matti Latvala of Finland rounded out the top five.
In a tricky stage nine from Vitrolles to Faye, Bouffier lost the lead after spinning off the road and needing help from spectators to push his car out of a muddy field. Kubica, the former Formula One driver who nearly lost a hand in a 2011 rally crash, skidded off the road while in fourth place overall.
“There was a sudden change of grip,” Kubica said. “We needed to be cautious because we had it marked by our ice crew, but unfortunately I misjudged how big that change would be. We went into the corner, the front went straight on and we hit a bridge.”
Bouffier won stage eight from Selonnet to Breziers by two tenths of a second to hold on to his overnight lead. But Ogier, who started the day in fourth place, quickly made up ground with a solid performance.
Hyundai drivers Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Dani Sordo of Spain both retired on Thursday.
Kubica crashed heavily while racing in Italy on Feb. 6, 2011, suffering massive injuries to the right side of his body, almost severing his forearm, and with fractures to his leg and shoulder.
The injuries put an end to his F1 career. Kubica competed in 76 F1 races for BMW and Renault, winning the Canadian Grand Prix in 2008.
The Polish driver is starting his first full season in the World Rally Championship in a Ford with a reconfigured gearshift and handbrake because of the limited strength in his right hand.
Last year, Kubica clinched the World Rally Championship’s second-tier WRC2 driving for Citroen.Bryan Bouffier, Kris Meeke, Monte Carlo Rally, Robert Kubica, Sebastien Ogier, Sports Cars, WRC