False start as Paddon brings Monte to a crashing halt
After the big build-up and the heightened sense of anticipation, the start of the Monte Carlo Rally and the beginning of rallying's new era turned out to be a total anti-climax, lasting less than half an hour.
The first stage last night was cancelled after just two of the new generation cars had completed the 21km test in the icy mountains near Gap, the rally being brought to a halt when New Zealander Hayden Paddon crashed and his Hyundai blocked the road.
Only Sebastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville completed the test, the Belgian's Hyundai edging out the Ford Fiesta of World champion Ogier by less than a second.
Paddon was the third car into the stage but near the finish his Hyundai ran wide on a left-hand bend, snapped sideways on the frozen edge and flipped onto its side.
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard were unhurt but the car remained stuck across the road.
Another six cars, including the Citroen of Dungannon ace Kris Meeke, were already in the stage but they were brought to a halt and the whole field was re-routed to stage two late last night.
Meeke had insisted he would settle for a safe, steady start but the split times for the stage showed he was second fastest to the point where he had to stop.
Quickest on the split times was Ogier's team-mate Ott Tanak, the Estonian stepping up to the front-line M-Sport Ford team after impressing in a DMACK Fiesta last season. He was half a second faster than Meeke at the 12km mark.
Meeke's team-mates, Circuit of Ireland winner Craig Breen and young Frenchman Stephane Lefebrve, were also in the stage when Paddon crashed but were slowed before the half-distance mark.
The rally resumed in earnest this morning with a further six stages which Meeke has described as "proper Monte stages" with "lots of snow and ice". It continues tomorrow and finishes on Sunday, the final leg including the 21km Power Stage.