Ogier takes lead at Monte Carlo after Neuville's puncture

MONACO (AP) Defending world rally champion Sebastien Ogier moved into the lead at the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally on Saturday after Belgian driver Thierry Neuville sustained a puncture on the day's last stage and went out of contention.

Neuville, who won three stages on Friday and the first on Saturday, was in the race lead when his Hyundai halted midway through the 13th stage of 17 overall with a punctured rear-left tire.

''It was quite a slow left corner, and on the exit the rear went wide and I hit something,'' Neuville said. ''I don't know what.''

This allowed Ogier - who had been 51 seconds behind in second place after stage 12 - to take control.

Estonia's Ott Tanak moved into second place - 47 seconds behind Ogier - and Finnish driver Jari-Matti Latvala climbed into third, 2:20 behind Ogier.

Neuville lost a huge amount of time repairing the puncture and crawled over the line more than 30 minutes later, drifting down to 15th.

Ogier sympathized.

''Thierry has driven a great rally, with fantastic speed,'' Ogier said. ''To drive the whole of Monte Carlo in these conditions at that speed is a hard challenge. Monte Carlo is a rally where you need luck.''

Ogier won the race last year by more than two minutes and is set to clinch his 39th career win if he holds his advantage in Sunday's remaining four stages.

Sunday features a double ascent of the famous Col de Turini, one of the race's iconic landmarks, and bonus points are available to the fastest five drivers in the final Power Stage.

Saturday's first early-morning stage, which featured a 15-kilometer (9-mile) stretch covered in ice and snow, was narrowly won by Neuville ahead of Ogier. After the next stage Neuville led Ogier by a minute.

But Ogier won stage 11 and then placed second behind Evans on stage 12 - which was quick and bumpy. Going flat out, Ogier overcame a scare when his Ford Fiesta understeered into a field and almost clipped a signpost as he regained the road.

''We knew it was an open area, but I didn't expect so much dirt on the road,'' Ogier said. ''But you take risks because I knew it was only a field on the outside.''

The 33-year-old Frenchman is seeking a fifth consecutive world title. That would move him second all-time behind countryman Sebastien Loeb, who won his nine titles consecutively.

Ogier announced last month that he was leaving Volkswagen to drive the Ford Fiesta for M-Sport this season.

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