Jan 16 (Reuters) - The world rally championship swept in a new era in Monte Carlo on Wednesday with erratic timing and tracking systems causing confusion but Citroen's Sebastien Loeb leading the way as usual over the snowy mountain roads.
Although the Frenchman is not challenging for an astonishing 10th title in a row, he has made clear that he still wants to win the four rounds of the 13-event championship that he is contesting.
After a day beset by problems with the timing carried out by new Spanish provider SIT, Loeb led compatriot and Volkswagen rival Sebastien Ogier by one minute 20.3 seconds after four stages.
Citroen's Mikko Hirvonen was third, one minute 46.7 seconds off the lead.
The timing had been thrown into confusion early on, with no split times available and the third stage showing huge gaps between drivers while teams and fans tried to fathom what was happening on the road.
"It's completely unacceptable what we have seen today," the autosport.com website quoted Volkswagen team principal Jost Capito as saying.
"The FIA expects the manufacturers and the teams to be properly prepared and they are charging a high entry fee. The least you can expect is the proper timing.
"And it's not just the timing, it's security too. The FIA is pushing so much on safety, I don't know how they can run stages where the safety system is not working, where it shows up on the screen that there is an emergency, yet the car is moving," he added. "If there is a real emergency, then what will happen?"
Loeb said he had been unable to measure his pace because of the problems which at one point did not even register him as leading while in the first stage he was shown as stopped on the road when that was not the case.
"I couldn't change my rhythm in accordance with that of the other drivers," said the Frenchman, who took the lead on the second stage after going easy on his car's studded tyres in the opener on dryer roads.
"So I pushed hard throughout the afternoon. It paid off and we now have a healthy lead. But it's only the start. There are still three long days to go."
Loeb announced last September that he would not be defending his title, leaving the road open to Finnish team mate Hirvonen to become Citroen's lead driver.
"The goal is not the same, but the preparation for the rally is the same," Loeb, 38, had said before Wednesday's start.
"If I am able to fight for victory, I will try to do it. But if not, it's not as bad as in the past. I am here for fun and in these conditions...it will be fun."
Ogier claimed the day's opening stage over winding roads and in sub-zero temperatures - with icy patches and a covering of snow in places - from Le Moulinon, south-west of Valence, to Antraigues.
The win gave his Volkswagen team the perfect start to their championship campaign. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by John Mehaffey)
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