Sebastien Loeb didn't take long to make his presence felt in the World Rally Championship once again as he topped shakedown ahead of the 2015 opener, the Monte Carlo Rally.

The nine-time champion will make his first WRC appearance for 15 months during a one-off outing with Citroen in Monte Carlo as he looks to build on an unprecedented seven wins on the event.

Quickly getting reacquainted with the Citroen DS3 around the 3.52km Chateauvieux stage, Loeb was 0.4secs quicker than team-mate Kris Meeke, while defending champion and last year's Monte Carlo winner Sebastien Ogier was third, 1.1secs behind his fellow Frenchman.

"I got the feeling back," said Loeb. "It's a little bit different, as I haven't driven on roads like these for a long time. But I'm really happy to be here and to see everyone from the rallying world again.

"Monte-Carlo is a home event for Daniel [Elena - my co-driver] and the stages are in France. We're here to enjoy ourselves. It's difficult to tell what will happen once the rally gets underway; it'll all depend on the conditions!"

"The shakedown went well for Julien [Ingrassia - my co-driver] and me," Ogier added. "The new Polo R WRC not only looks good, it also feels great on the road. But one thing's for sure: the conditions at this 'Monte' won't be easy. With temperatures around freezing it will be difficult to predict where there will be ice and snow, and where the asphalt will still be clear. The ice spies will play an important role once again.

"There are also lots of new special stages that I'm not familiar with at this year's Rally Monte Carlo. The fact that Sebastien Loeb is returning for this rally naturally makes it even more exciting for the many fans - but no doubt there are plenty of other drivers who want to fight for the win in these unpredictable conditions."

Behind, Andrea Mikkelsen and Robert Kubica rounded out the top five, the latter preparing to drive a Pirelli-shod Ford Fiesta this weekend, while Elfyn Evans, Mads Ostberg, Sebastien Chardonnet, Theirry Neuville and Dani Sordo completed the top ten.

"Rally Monte Carlo is one of the most difficult rallies, and definitely the perfect opener for the WRC season," Mikkelsen noted. "Unfortunately I don't have the best track record here. In 2011 I retired after only a few metres on the first special stage, and last year I finished seventh. But I feel ready for this year.

"The shakedown was good for putting a few kilometres on the clock and testing a few tyre combinations. But it wasn't really that representative of the 'Monte'.

"With all the mud it was more like the Rally Great Britain. However, it will also be difficult to predict the conditions accurately in the coming days, since they change very quickly. For example, during the 'recce', the 51-kilometre stage was covered in snow on the first pass, but was bare asphalt on the second pass. So it will be interesting."

2015 Rallye Monte Carlo - Shakedown results (Top 18):

1. Sebastien LoebCitroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC 2m 21.0s M
2. Kris MeekeCitroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC 2m 21.4s M
3. Sebastien OgierVolkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC2m 22.1s M
4. Andreas MikkelsenVolkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC2m 22.2s M
5. Robert KubicaRK WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC2m 22.3s M
6. Elfyn EvansM-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC2m 22.4s M
7. Mads OstbergCitroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC 2m 22.8s M
8. Sebastien ChardonnetCitroen DS3 WRC 2m 22.8s M
9. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC 2m 24.9s M
=. Dani SordoHyundai Motorsport i20 WRC 2m 24.9s M

11. Jari-Matti LatvalaVolkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC2m 25.2s M
12. Ott TanakM-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC2m 26.2s M
13. Yuriy Protasov D-Max Racing Citroen DS3 WRC2m 28.1
14. Henning SolbergM-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC 2m 29.2s
15. Bryan BouffierM-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC2m 30.1s
16. Stephane LefebvrePH Sport Citroen DS3 R52m 35.7s
17. Lorenzo BertelliFWRT SRL Ford Fiesta RS WRC 2m 36.0s M
18. Martin ProkopJipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC2m 37.0s M

 

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