Sebastien Loeb has made the perfect start to the new season, posting the fastest time at the pre-Rally Sweden shakedown stage.
The reigning World Rally Champion was more than a second faster than anybody through the 2.5-mile stage, with his Citroen teammate Dani Sordo setting the second-quickest time. Loeb's fastest time came on his fourth and final run at the stage. He was 1.2sec faster than Sordo, with top Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala third quickest, a further second down on Sordo.
"Shakedown was OK, no problem," said Loeb. "Other drivers have done some rallies since the last round of last year's championship, but I haven't. I did two days of testing and shakedown this morning, this has to be enough. I have to get in the car and be on the pace straight away."
Loeb admitted the return of five-time Rally Sweden winner Marcus Gronholm was a concern for him.
"I think it can be a big battle for the victory," Loeb added. "Mikko [Hirvonen] is going to be competitive and Marcus is coming back and Petter [Solberg] has the same car as we have. There are a few Nordic drivers – it won't be so easy for me."
Gronholm was fifth fastest in the shakedown, just two tenths behind fourth-placed man Hirvonen.
"The time was OK," said Gronholm. "I'm happy with that. Now we start the rally and we will see what happens. A podium would be nice, but we have to see when we are in the stages tomorrow. I have been a long time away from the rally. Lately, I have done a lot more skiing than I have done driving."
Ex-Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen was 10th fastest, 5.9sec off the pace-setting Loeb.
Reigning Junior World Rally champion Martin Prokop was fastest of the new Super 2000 WRC drivers. His Ford Fiesta S2000 was three tenths of a second up on P-G Andersson's Skoda Fabia S2000.
The rally proper commences with a ceremonial start in Karlstad this evening, before a superspecial run around the town's running track.