(Reuters) – Belgian Thierry Neuville led the season-opening Monte Carlo rally for Hyundai on Friday after an opening day marred by the death of a spectator.
Neuville ended the first full day of action with a 45.1 seconds lead over four times world champion Sebastien Ogier, who won the last two stages in the French Alps driving the new M-Sport Ford Fiesta.
Ogier, winner of the previous three Monte Carlo rallies for Volkswagen, lost 40 seconds when he slid into a ditch on the icy roads after just 2.5km of the day’s opening stage.
“It’s been a tough day with some very difficult conditions which were made all the more challenging as the first car on the road,” said Ogier.
“We had a moment this morning which certainly wasn’t the start that we were looking for, but things got better this afternoon.”
The day began in a somber mood after Thursday night’s fatality that led to the opening stage being canceled.
New Zealander Hayden Paddon, whose Hyundai was involved in the accident, withdrew from the rally and issued a statement on Friday to express his condolences to the spectator’s family and friends.
He also urged fans to respect the rules and stay out of danger.
“I will take this chance to ask spectators at rallies to please be considerate where you stand and to respect the instructions of the marshals,” he said.
“We all want to enjoy a good show and go home to the family afterwards. I also ask each and every rally fan at the events, if you see someone in a dangerous position to request they move for everyone’s best interest.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris)