Robert Kubica impresses on first day of Monte Carlo rally
PARIS (AP) - Robert Kubica showed he is making a successful comeback from a career-threatening injury with an impressive drive on the first day of the season-opening Monte Carlo rally on Thursday, winning the first two stages and finishing the day in third place overall ahead of defending world champion Sebastien Ogier.
The Polish driver had to quit Formula One after he nearly severed his wrist in a minor rally in 2011. Although he took part in a handful of races last season, the 29-year-old Kubica is starting his first full season in the world rally championship in an M-Sport prepared Ford with a reconfigured gearshift and handbrake because of the limited strength in his right hand.
Frenchman Bryan Bouffier leads overall, with Britain's Kris Meeke 38.8 seconds behind him and leading Kubica by only 0.7 seconds and Ogier by 7.8.
There were patches of snow and ice on stage 1, a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) trek from Orpierre to Saint Andre de Rosans.
But despite having almost no previous experience of the Monte Carlo rally except for a slot in the pre-run four years ago, he finished it 14.3 seconds quicker than Bouffier and 19.1 seconds ahead of Ogier.
''It was very tough, there was snow and we were not expecting snow. We had slick tires,'' Kubica said. ''That was the toughest stage of my life.''
Belgian driver Thierry Neuville abandoned stage 1 after crashing his Hyundai.
''It was a mistake on my part, I was caught by surprise on a very quick turn,'' Neuville said. ''I went too wide and I hit a post ... I have no excuses. I'm angry with myself.''
After winning the second stage ahead of Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala, Kubica was 36.8 seconds clear of Ogier, who had climbed into second spot.
But Kubica struggled badly on the snow in the undulating third stage, finishing a lowly 21st as he dropped down to fourth overall while Bouffier took the overall lead.
Kubica recovered well to finish third in the 25.5-kilometer (15.8-mile) fourth stage - won by Latvala -to trim Bouffier's lead to 36.3 seconds.
Ogier then won stage 5, with Kubica finishing fourth and moving ahead of Meeke to position himself in second overall, while it proved to be a bad day for Hyundai as Dani Sordo pulled out with a technical problem.
Most of the earlier snow on the high altitude section had melted or turned to slush, making it a wet stage 6. Kubica finished it in seventh place, with Meeke fourth fastest to regain second place.
Last year, Kubica clinched the world rally championship's second-tier WRC2 driving for Citroen and his best WRC finish was fifth in Germany.
He crashed heavily while racing in the Ronde di Andora 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.
After undergoing several operations, he then took part in a number of national rallies as part of his gradual recovery.
Kubica competed in 76 F1 races for BMW and Renault, winning the Canadian GP in 2008. He was to race for Renault in F1 in 2011, and was even being watched by Ferrari, but injuries prevented that and his last race was the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP in 2010.
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