Evgeny Novikov posted the quickest time during shakedown for the opening round of the new World Rally Championship season in Monte Carlo.

The M-Sport Ford driver posted a time of 2min 13.0secs to edge out the MINI John Cooper Works of Armindo Araujo, with defending champion Sebastien Loeb third fastest through the 3.58km test to the south of Valence.

Although his mandatory four runs through the stage passed without issue, Loeb admitted that the weather in the region was cause of concern ahead of the season opener.

"I am a little apprehensive about this rally, even though I have won it five times before," he said. "Obviously, it's the weather that complicates matters. We were under the impression that this year's rally would be dry but snow fell before the final day of reconnaissance, which caught everyone by surprise. The work of the early starters will be essential for choosing the right tyres. At Monte-Carlo, there's always a degree of compromise involved in tyre choice and I think that makes the rally pretty exciting!"

Petter Solberg was fourth ahead of his first outing for Ford in the Fiesta WRC, while team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala was sixth; the pair split on the shakedown standings by Citroen's Thierry Neuville.

Mikko Hirvonen was seventh fastest in the second of the factory Citroens, with the Finn agreeing with his team-mate Loeb that the weather was likely to have a major impact on the weekend - especially given there will be no second chances thanks to the fact that Superally isn't being used.

"I am pleased to start the season at Monte-Carlo," he said. "I have worked a lot with the team during the off-season and I feel good in the car. Having said that, it's always a bit different when you line up at the start of a special stage that you know by heart, when you only need to rely on your notes and what you can see in front of the bonnet. Before the snow fell, I had thought it would be a relatively easy rally. But in actual fact, I think it's going to be a 'real' Monte-Carlo! If I can begin my new working relationship with Citro?n with a podium finish, I'd be very happy with that."

Dani Sordo, Ott Tanak and Sebastien Ogier rounded out the top ten, the latter at the wheel of his S2000-spec Skoda Fabia entered by Volkswagen Motorsport.

Elsewhere, Francois Delecour suffered a minor off during the shakedown test but escaped without any serious damage to his car, while the Fiestas of Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg made their public debut in a new Go Fast Energy World Rally Team livery; unveiled for the first time on the morning of shakedown, although a final decision on whether the team takes part in the event hasn't yet been taken.

"We're doing the shakedown and there are still some contractual issues," Wilson told iRally. "The decision will be taken this evening but we are here for the shakedown and will see what happens. The car looks awesome and I hope we can get everything sorted out."

Monte Carlo Rally shakedown times (Top 10):

1. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford WRT Ford Fiesta WRC 2min 13.0secs
2. Armindo Araujo Armindo Araujo MINI John Cooper Works 2min 13.2secs
3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT Citroen DS3 WRC 2min 13.5secs
4. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Ford Fiesta WRC 2min 13.6secs
5. Thierry Neuville PH Sport Citroen DS3 WRC 2min 14.0secs
6. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Ford Fiesta WRC 2min 14.0secs
7. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT Citroen DS3 WRC 2min 14.7secs
8. Dani Sordo MINI WRT MINI John Cooper Works 2min 14.9secs
9. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRT Ford Fiesta WRC 2min 15.5secs
10. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 2min 17.0secs

All times unofficial