(Reuters) – World champion Sebastien Ogier, starting a new adventure with the M-Sport Ford team after Volkswagen’s departure, was fastest in testing for the season-opening Monte Carlo rally on Wednesday.
The Frenchman set the pace in the new-look Fiesta car on the 3.35km ‘shakedown’ over mountain roads around the town of Gap in southern France.
Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen was second fastest in a Skoda Fabia and Ogier’s Estonian team mate Ott Tanak was third. Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala was fourth ahead of Toyota’s return to the championship after a 17-year absence.
Ogier has won the rally for the past three years for Volkswagen, who pulled out at the end of last season following the company’s diesel emissions scandal.
“It’s a new season in every sense of the word — a new era, a new car and a new team,” the four times world champion said earlier in the week.
The rally starts in Monaco’s Casino Square on Thursday before two short night stages north to Gap.
Friday is the longest day with more stages on Saturday before Sunday’s final leg that includes the renowned Col de Turini, where ice and snow can cause problems.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)