THIERRY Neuville led a Hyundai 1-2 shakedown result as the new FIA World Rally Championship season blasted into life at Rallye Monte-Carlo.
The Belgian edged team-mate Dani Sordo by 0.1sec in the 3.35km test, as less than a second covered the top five crews over twisty roads a handful of kilometres outside the town of Gap in the French Alps.
Bright sunshine and remarkably mild temperatures, which climbed into the teens, ensured the stage was clear of snow and ice and both Hyundai i20 drivers posted their best time in their first pass through the test on Wednesday evening.
“The set-up felt good. We’ve found a good setting and had a good pre-event test. The car is pretty similar to last year so it should be more or less the same feeling,” Neuville said.
“I’m confident. Everybody is excited about the new season and I’m really looking forward to it. It will be a big challenge but it’s going to be good.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s new signing, Ott Tänak, was half a second adrift of Neuville in third with Kris Meeke fourth in a Citroën C3, a further 0.2sec back. Andreas Mikkelsen was next up in another i20 and Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top six.
“I struggled to complain about the car or the set-up,this evening so I think that’s a good sign,” said Yaris debutant Tänak.
“I’m sure we still have a lot to learn, to see where the limit is but for the minute it feels great to drive.”
Ahead of shakedown there was major drama for M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Bryan Bouffier. The Frenchman crashed during the reconnaissance and co-driver Jérôme Degout aggravated a neck injury which ruled him out of the rally.
Xavier Panseri, just back home after finishing sixth alongside Khalid Al Qassimi in the Dakar Rally last weekend, was rushed to Gap and will deputise in the Fiesta.
Top 10 shakedown times:
1 Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20) 2m00.2
2 Dani Sordo (Hyundai i20) +0.1s
3 Ott Tänak (Toyota Yaris) +0.5s
4 Kris Meeke (Citroën C3) +0.7s
5 Andreas Mikkelsen (Hyundai i20) +0.8s
6 Jari-Matti Latvala (Toyota Yaris) +1.3s
7 Sébastien Ogier (Ford Fiesta) +1.4s
8 Elfyn Evans (Ford Fiesta) +1.9s
=9 Craig Breen (Citroën C3) +2.7s
=9 Esapekka Lappi (Toyota Yaris) +2.7s