Breen leads the Citroen push as Meeke slips up in icy Monte Carlo
It was Craig Breen not Kris Meeke who led the Citroen challenge on the opening night of the Monte Carlo Rally.
The two-time Circuit of Ireland winner from Waterford slotted into fifth place at the end of a dramatic first stage which saw World champion Sebastien Ogier lead despite spinning his Ford Fiesta on an icy corner and another of the championship favourites, Thierry Neuville, lose more than four minutes when he put his Hyundai off the road.
Breen was off the road and in the snow too but recovered to finish the 26-mile Sisteron stage 24 seconds slower than Ogier.
However, Meeke lost more than a minute-and-a-half when his C3 Citroen caught a patch of ice and slipped into a ditch.
"I had to wait for spectators to push us out and lost a minute to a minute-and-a-half. It's a long rally, we'll keep going, but it's not a good start," said the Dungannon driver who dropped to 10th place.
Closest to leader Ogier was new Hyundai recruit Andreas Mikkelsen, seven seconds slower, with Esapekka Lappi, another past Circuit of Ireland winner, in third place in his debut drive for Toyota. Dani Sordo in the second of the Hyundais was fourth, six seconds ahead of Breen.
The Toyotas of Ott Tanak and Jari-Matti Latvala were sixth and seventh respectively although they, too, fell victim to the treacherous conditions with spins.
The Fords of Bryan Bouffier and Eric Camilli also finished the opener just ahead of Meeke.
Former Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans was another driver in trouble, dropping over three minutes when his Ford picked up a puncture. The Welshman elected to stop and change the wheel rather than risk further damage.