Thierry Neuville made the perfect start to his career as a Qatar M-Sport driver with fastest time at the Monte Carlo Rally shakedown.
In mixed conditions, the Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver set a time of 2m26.1s for the two-mile stage close to Valence. Sebastien Loeb was second fastest in his Citroen DS3 WRC, 2.6 seconds down on the flying Belgian.
"Of course, it's always a good feeling to be fastest, but it's the next four days that really count," Neuville said. "Every time I get behind the wheel of the Fiesta I am feeling more and more confident and, hopefully, I can carry this speed to into the rally and bring home a good result."
The test for the opening round of the 2013 WRC bore little resemblance to the Alpine roads on which this event will be fought, however.
"The shakedown stage went around a field, but with the conditions it was quite lucky – I think everybody went into the field today," said Loeb. "But tomorrow, when the rally really starts, then we are no longer in the field, but we are driving with the rocks and the ditches. Tomorrow, everything starts."
Neuville's teammate Evgeny Novikov was third quickest in his Fiesta, just one tenth behind Loeb, with Mikko Hirvonen fourth in another Citroen.
Jari-Matti Latvala was fastest of the Volkswagen Polo R WRCs in fifth, 4.3sec down on Neuville, and one place and one tenth ahead of VW teammate Sebastien Ogier.
Leading WRC shakedown times:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Thierry Neuville Qatar M-Sport Ford 2m26.1s
2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 2.6s
3. Evgeny Novikov Qatar M-Sport Ford + 2.7s
4. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen + 3.3s
5. Jari-Matti Latvala VW + 4.3s
6. Sebastien Ogier VW + 4.4s
7. Dani Sordo Citroen + 5.7s
8. Mads Ostberg Qatar M-Sport Ford + 6.8s