The Frenchman fared the best when it came to juggling all of the elements that are needed to be successful on Rallye Monte Carlo and his reward was a comfortable lead over Citroen’s Kris Meeke.
But Bouffier admitted it could have been a completely different story after a nervy moment on the first stage. “It’s fantastic to be leading but we are very lucky to be here,” he explained.
“We hit a bridge on the very first corner of the first stage. I thought our race was over.”
Meeke enjoyed an impressive first day in his Citroen DS3 WRC. Like the majority of the field, the Briton made a cautious start but his confidence increased with each stage and he was able to overtake Robert Kubica for second place on the final stage.
“That was one of the most difficult days I’ve ever had in a rally car,” he said. “The weather was incredible in some places and you could honestly go off the road driving at only 10kmh. It’s been a big, big challenge.”
Kubica settled for third, 0.7s down on Meeke, on his first-ever event in his M-Sport-prepared Ford Focus RS WRC. The ex-F1 driver was the standout performer on the opening loop of stages, as he set two fastest times. But he adopted a more cautious approach on the remaining stages to ensure he made it to the end of the leg.
Defending world champion Sebastien Ogier ended the opening day in fourth place after enduring a troubled time at the head of the field. Uncomfortable tyre choices and an altercation with a wall meant he sat in 9th place at the end of the morning but he recovered with a brace of fastest times in the afternoon to end the day only 47.3s off the overall lead.
Citroen’s Mads Ostberg and M-Sport World Rally Team debutant Elfyn Evans rounded out the top six on a challenging day for both.