|AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau
World Rally Championship leader Sebastien Ogier made a perfect start at the Tour of Corsica on Friday, completing a clean sweep of four stages on the opening day of the race.
The French driver, who can claim a fourth world title with a victory at his home rally if other results go his way, led his closest rival Thierry Neuville by 44 seconds following his impressive display on tricky asphalt roads.
"I'm very happy, it's a great day for us," Ogier said. "No mistakes, all good so far. Everything was there to enjoy."
Ogier set the early pace by winning the opening stage south-east of Ajaccio with a four-second lead over Kris Meeke. In perfect weather conditions that contrasted with last year's torrential rain, he stretched his lead over his British rival to 14.7 seconds after the second stage starting in Liamone beach, then mastered the many hairpin bends leading to Albitreccia to kick off his afternoon.
Neuville moved to second overall after Meeke was slowed down by a puncture in the third stage. Meeke was tied with Ogier at the first intermediate before he was forced to stop to replace a wheel, losing 2 minutes and 27.2 seconds to the Frenchman and any realistic hope of victory.
Meeke bounced back in the fourth stage to post the second-best time, just 10 seconds behind Ogier, who left his rivals perplexed with his aggressive driving.
"I don't understand how Sebastien can go so fast," said Jari-Matti Latvala after ending the final stage 10.6 seconds behind.
Ogier started the race with a 59-point advantage over his Volkswagen teammate Andreas Mikkelsen, who lagged 59.3 seconds behind in fourth place overall.
"We're still in the fight. Seb has been in his own world today, very impressive," Mikkelsen said. "Maybe he's in the 2017 car already!"
The race ends on Sunday.