Held in sunny and predominantly dry conditions, the Frenchman’s benchmark through the 2.29km of ‘Saint-Agnes / Peille’ aboard the Toyota Gazoo Racing Yaris Rally1 car was 1m50.4s.

A winner of the Tarmac classic on a record-breaking eight occasions, the reigning World Rally champion had half-a-second in hand over fellow countryman, Sebastien Loeb. 

Competing in M-Sport Ford colours this weekend following his second-place finish at the Dakar Rally with the Bahrain Raid Extreme squad, Loeb set the benchmark on the first two passes before he was usurped right at the death. 

Loeb was the meat in a Toyota sandwich as 2021 WRC runner-up Elfyn Evans slotted his Yaris Rally1 car into third position on the timesheets, five-tenths-of-a-second slower than the nine-time World champion. 

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville had relatively straightforward runs to bank the fourth quickest time in his i20N Rally1 supermini, eight-tenths up on M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux in fifth.  

The Rally1 era got off to a troublesome start for Fourmaux’s Blue Oval team-mates Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith as both their cars lost power steering after the first pass of the short, sharp mountain test. 

Greensmith could only manage two runs, his best effort being one minute 53.1 seconds, but Breen had a full house. Even so, he was three whole seconds shy of Ogier’s leading pace.   

Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera – someone tipped by many to mount a sustained challenge for the drivers’ title this season after impressing for large parts in 2021 after his breakthrough win on Rally Estonia – was forced to park his Yaris Rally1 car up towards the end of his third attempt at the shakedown test. 

The initial effort of Hyundai’s Ott Tanak, meanwhile, had to be completed without hybrid assistance. The Estonian eventually went on to round out to top ten places alongside Martin Jarveoja. 

The opening round of the World Rally Championship begins proper this evening when crews will pit themselves against two night stages. At 15.2km and 23.25km respectively, ‘Lucéram / Lantosque’ (7.18pm) and ‘La Bollène-Vésubie / Moulinet’ (8.31pm) are based around Col de Turini in the Alpes Maritimes mountains.