Robert Kubica showed his enduring class on the first day of the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday by winning the first two stages and placing third overall ahead of defending world champion Sebastien Ogier.
The Polish driver had to quit Formula One after he nearly severed his wrist in a minor rally in 2011. Following that career-threatening injury, he competed in a handful of races last season, and is starting his first full season in the world rally championship in an M-Sport prepared Ford with a reconfigured gearshift and handbrake because of the limited strength in his right hand.
"I will settle for third place, but I can assure you that the most important thing for me is to finish and to feel like I've done a good job," Kubica said. "I didn't take any risks in the afternoon. It was less (difficult) in the afternoon, but it was still tricky, with a lot of mud on the road."
Frenchman Bryan Bouffier leads overall, with Britain's Kris Meeke 38.8 seconds behind him and leading Kubica by only 0.7 seconds and Ogier by 7.8.
"Monte Carlo is a unique race, which makes it so magical," Bouffier said. "We're happy to be in this position, but we shouldn't get carried away. Ogier is coming back really strongly."
There were patches of snow and ice on stage one, a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) trek from Orpierre to Saint Andre de Rosans. But despite having almost no previous experience of the Monte Carlo Rally except for a slot in the pre-run four years ago, Kubica finished it 14.3 seconds quicker than Bouffier and 19.1 seconds ahead of Ogier.
"It was very tough, there was snow and we were not expecting snow. We had slick tires," Kubica said. "That was the toughest stage of my life."
Belgian driver Thierry Neuville abandoned the stage after crashing his Hyundai.