WRC Monte Carlo Rally: Sebastien Loeb tops shakedown stage

Sebastien Loeb made a sensational return to the World Rally Championship with the fastest time on Wednesday afternoon's Monte Carlo Rally shakedown stage

WRC Monte Carlo Rally: Sebastien Loeb tops shakedown stage

And his time - four tenths of a second quicker than Citroen team-mate Kris Meeke - was even more impressive considering he had rolled his recce car on the way to a stage in the morning.

Loeb set the benchmark time through the 2.13-mile shakedown stage on his first run. He attempted the test four more times, but the road condition was deteriorating all the time.

Loeb said: "The first run was perfect. After that, the road was a big mess with mud everywhere. I couldn't drive as I would drive if it was clean, so I didn't [push]."

When the competition proper starts on Thursday evening, Loeb will be running in 14th place because he scored no points in last year's championship.

"With the new regulations, we will stay there as well," said Loeb. "Depending on the conditions, maybe it's good [to be 14th] or maybe we have no chance.

"We will see where we are. I can only try my best."

The Frenchman's recce shunt happened when he came over a crest and missed a corner.

A spokesman from the team said: "It wasn't a problem. Sebastien didn't miss any of the recce or anything like that, he was able to change the car and continue straight away."

Meeke was happy with his time, the Dungannon man's final run coming on studded tyres as he sought to find the feeling with the wrong tyres - a scenario that is certain to come the way of the crews with heavy snow forecast overnight.

Defending champion Sebastien Ogier was third fastest, 1.1s off Loeb, with his Volkswagen team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen a tenth of a second down in fourth place.

Robert Kubica was fifth fastest on his debut with his new RK World Rally Team. Fellow Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver Elfyn Evans was 0.1s behind him in sixth place.

The crews will depart Gap on Thursday morning to make the official photograph in Monaco before attending a start of the season party and the ceremonial start in the afternoon.

The first stage - a 13-miler from Entrevaux to Rouaine - gets underway at 20:21 local time.

FOLLOW THE 2015 WRC OPENER WITH AUTOSPORT:

Comprehensive preview package in the January 22 issue of AUTOSPORT magazine

Follow the Monte Carlo Rally as it happens with Race Centre Live on AUTOSPORT.com from 6.45pm UK time on Thursday evening

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