Sébastien Ogier made the best possible start to his Toyota Gazoo Racing career by topping the shakedown times at the FIA World Rally Championship’s season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo on Thursday afternoon.
Ogier, who moved to the Japanese manufacturer after his run of six consecutive world titles came to an end last season, was fastest out of the blocks through the 3.35km Gap special stage in unusually mild temperatures.
The Frenchman set the pace in his Yaris in his opening run, a tenth up on Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20. And that was the way it stayed. Neither improved their times as Ogier went out twice more and Neuville a further three occasions.
Ogier is many people’s favourite to rack up a seventh straight Monte-Carlo win, and eighth in total, but he was making no predictions.
“I think more or less every car that starts the rally should be able to win it, but it’s a big point about managing the conditions this weekend,” he said.
Team-mate Elfyn Evans was third in the opening pass and although he shaved two-tenths from his time in the next run, he ended 0.6sec adrift of Ogier.
World champion Ott Tänak was 1.2sec off Ogier’s pace in his first public appearance in an i20. The Estonian completed four runs and was more than a second clear of the M-Sport Ford Fiestas of Teemu Suninen and Esapekka Lappi who completed the top six.
“A lot is new and we have a lot to discover. It will be interesting, but so far so good,” said Tänak.
The rally begins at 17.00 tomorrow afternoon from Monaco’s picturesque harbour. Competitors face two tricky late-evening tests in darkness, totalling almost 43km, before arriving in Gap for an overnight halt at 00.24.
|1.||Sébastien Ogier||Toyota Yaris||1min 57.1sec|
|2.||Thierry Neuville||Hyundai i20||+0.1sec|
|3.||Elfyn Evans||Toyota Yaris||+0.6sec|
|4.||Ott Tänak||Hyundai i20||+1.2sec|
|5.||Teemu Suninen||Ford Fiesta||+2.3sec|