Theirry Neuville topped the times in shakedown for the opening round of the new World Rally Championship season in Monte Carlo.
Neuville, who makes his first start this week in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC, stopped the clocks in 2m 26.1s on his fastest run through the 3.6km-long stage on the Plateau de Lautagne, some 8km south of the service park in Valence.
“So much depends on the road conditions,” Neuville told the official WRC website. “We had a great couple of runs at the end when the road was quite clean. The snow was only patchy at that point and the road quite clean. I had good confidence and could try to drive hard and see the limits of the car.
“But it's not always the fastest driver who wins this rally, almost never in fact. We just need to be careful – especially during tomorrow's first day, which I expect will be very complicated. My objective remains to stay on the road and get the car all the way to Monaco."
That put the Belgian driver 2.6s clear of the Citroen of defending champion Sebastien Loeb and the first of the Qatar M-Sport WRT Fords in the hands of Evgeny Novikov.
Mikko Hirvonen's Citroen was fourth quickest with the two new Volkswagen Polos rounding out the top six; Jari-Matti Latvala going two tenths of a second faster than Sebastien Ogier.
“For our first run the stage was completely covered with packed snow. Not ice as such, but hard packed and very slippy,” Latvala said. “There were already a couple of tracks on the road where people had gone off ahead of me. Soon after I had a small moment myself when I stalled under braking and went straight on at a junction.
“We started on the studded snow tyre option. On the corners it was fine, but under braking it's difficult because the slush blocks the tyre tread and we kept locking up. If the weather stays like this I'm expecting a very difficult Monte-Carlo.”
The event will get underway with the opening stage on Wednesday morning.
Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo: Shakedown times:
1. Thierry Neuville
Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC 2m 26.1s
2. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +2.6s
3. Evgeny Novikov
Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2.7s
4. Mikko Hirvonen
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +3.3s
5. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo WRC +4.3s
6. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo WRC +4.5s
7. Dani Sordo
Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +5.7s
8. Mads Ostberg
Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +6.8s
9. Tomas Kostka
Skoda Fabia S2000 +11.3s
10. Sepp Wiegand
Skoda Fabia S2000 +11.4s
11. Juho Hanninen
Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +12.6s
12. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia S2000 +14.2s
13. Julien Marin
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +20.0s
14. Martin Prokop
Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +24.6s
15. Bryan Bouffier
Citroen DS3 WRC +25.4s
16. Michal Kosciousko
Lotos Team WRC MINI John Cooper Works WRC +25.4s
all times unofficial