MONACO (AP) — Five-time defending world rally champion Sebastien Ogier won the first two stages of the season-opening Monte Carlo rally in cold conditions on Thursday night.

Ogier considers the Monte Carlo rally his favorite and the 34-year-old Frenchman has won the past four editions.

He has made a strong start as he bids for the 41st race win of his career. He holds an overall lead of 17.3 seconds over Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen and 25.6 over Spaniard Dani Sordo — who both drive for Hyundai.

"Some small things to improve but not a bad start," Ogier said. "Same conditions for everyone."

Although he drove his Ford Fiesta carefully through snow and ice-covered sections on the hilly first stage — about 37 kilometers (23 miles) from Thoard to Sisteron — he still finished it nearly eight seconds ahead of Mikkelsen, and this despite a glitch.

"We lost time in a spin on the ice. We knew it would be tricky," Ogier said after completing S1 in 23 minutes, 16.6 seconds. "No surprise that so many drivers have had problems."

Thierry Neuville, last year's world rally runner-up to Ogier, was among them. The Belgian driver finished S1 more than four minutes behind his rival in 21st place.

The Hyundai driver recovered to finish a little more than one second behind Ogier on the night's gravelly, dirty and slippery second stage — a 25.5-kilometer (15.8-mile) mile trek from Bayons to Breziers — with Estonian driver Ott Tanak powering his Toyota Yaris into third. The consistent Sordo finished fourth in both stages.

There are a total of 17 specials — with six on Friday — and the race ends Sunday lunchtime.

Ogier is only the second driver to win five world titles. Countryman Sebastien Loeb won nine straight from 2004-2012.