AP Sports Writer
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.
"I was caught by surprise on a very quick turn," Neuville said. "I have no excuses. I'm angry with myself."
After winning the second stage ahead of Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala, Kubica was 36.8 seconds clear of Ogier, who climbed into second spot.
But the 29-year-old Kubica struggled badly on the snow in the undulating third stage, finishing a lowly 21st as he dropped to fourth overall while Bouffier took the overall lead.
Kubica recovered well to finish third in the 25.5-kilometer (16-mile) fourth stage, won by Latvala, to trim Bouffier's lead to 36.3 seconds.
Ogier then won the fifth stage, with Kubica finishing fourth and moving ahead of Meeke to position himself in second overall, while it proved to be a bad day for Hyundai as Dani Sordo pulled out with a technical problem.
Most of the earlier snow on the high-altitude section had melted or turned to slush, making it a wet stage six. Kubica finished it in seventh place, with Meeke fourth fastest to regain second place.
Last year, Kubica clinched the world rally championship's second-tier WRC2 driving for Citroen, and his best WRC finish was fifth in Germany.
He crashed heavily while racing in the Ronde di Andora on Feb. 6, 2011, suffering massive injuries to the right side of his body, almost severing his forearm, and with fractures to his leg and shoulder.
After several operations, he took part in national rallies as part of his gradual recovery.
Kubica competed in 76 F1 races for BMW and Renault, winning the Canadian GP in 2008. He was to race for Renault in F1 in 2011, and was even being watched by Ferrari, but injuries prevented that.
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