Sebastien Loeb posted the fastest time on Tuesday morning's Monte Carlo Rally shakedown stage.
In sunny but cold conditions, the Frenchman continued where he left off on this rally four years ago – fastest. Russian Ford driver Evgeny Novikov was the defending WRC champion's closest challenger, 1.7sec slower than the number one Citroen.
Loeb said: "We had no problems, it's nice that this rally is back. I do have good memories and good results here, but it doesn't make the event any easier for me, it's still a very difficult rally."
Mini driver Dani Sordo put a troubled off-season behind him to go third quickest in his john Cooper Works WRC, just a tenth down on Novikov's Fiesta RS WRC.
Thierry Neuville turned in an exceptional maiden shakedown on his debut with the PH Sport Citroen team, with the Belgian star fourth fastest.
Ford returnee Petter Solberg was fifth, with Mikko Hirvonen – the man he replaced at the British squad – one place farther back in sixth. Hirvonen was 3.4sec slower than his Citroen teammate Loeb, but just six tenths behind Solberg.
The event starts Tuesday evening with a ceremonial opening in Valence before heading into the Alps for the first competitive action on Wednesday morning.