MONTE CARLO - Six-times world champion Sebastien Ogier was fastest in the shakedown for the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally on Wednesday ahead of his competitive debut for Toyota.

The Frenchman has replaced reigning world champion Ott Tanak at the Japanese manufacturer after the Estonian moved to Hyundai.

Belgian Thierry Neuville was second fastest for champions Hyundai over the 3.35km stage near the service park in Gap with another Toyota newcomer, Welshman Elfyn Evans, third in dry conditions. Tanak was fourth.

"So far, everything is good and running like we were hoping," commented Ogier, who did a best time of one minute 57.1 seconds.

"Shakedown doesn't mean much and you don't need to make any conclusions from the results, but it's always a good sign if you are in the rhythm already.

"We can be confident heading into the rally, but this is probably the one rally of the season where you need to stay humble at the start as the conditions can make it so tricky," added the driver who won for now-departed Citroen a year ago.

Ogier has triumphed seven times in Monte Carlo, a record he shares with compatriot Sebastien Loeb.

The rally proper starts from Monte Carlo's harbour on Thursday night with two dark and potentially icy stages on the route back to Gap. 

Chile removed from WRC calendar

In other news, this year's world rally championship has been reduced to 13 rounds after Chile was removed at the request of local organisers, the governing FIA said earlier this week.

The gravel rally had been scheduled as the fourth round on April 16-19. 

The decision means the subsequent round in Argentina, initially scheduled from April 30 to May 3, has been brought forward by one week to give more time to ship freight afterwards.

Media reports last year cited political and social unrest in Chile as the reason for organisers seeking cancellation. The all-electric Formula E series held the third round of its championship in Santiago last weekend, however.

Rally Chile joined the world championship in 2019 and the event was based around the port city of Concepcion, some 440km south of Santiago. 

Reuters