Monte countdown: Rally route
Alpine roads pose tough challenge in season-opener
The Briton drove his DS 3 World Rally Car through the 3.3km stage near Gap in 2m07.2sec, two-tenths quicker than his closest rival, Volkswagen's defending world champion Sébastien Ogier. Dani Sordo was third, 3.4sec slower than Meeke in Hyundai's all-new i20 WRC.
Mud was the major talking point of the session, during which the dry Tarmac quickly turned wet and slippery as cars dragged snow and slush from the verges.
One of the first to tackle the stage, Meeke conceded that his start position had been an advantage for his winning run.
"We were second or third in, and for sure a lot of mud was pulled out and the road got slower and slower," he told wrc.com. "Okay, in that sense it isn't a very representative stage, but I'm still happy because my second pass was quickest too - so even when the road was muddy the time was still good.
"The most important thing is that the feeling was good. It's been too long since Rally GB and it's nice to get into the car against the clock again - to put the lids on and do a proper WRC shakedown. It's a confidence booster - and this rally is all about confidence."
Mads Østberg was ninth-fastest on his first rally back in M-Sport's Ford Fiesta RS and agreed with Meeke. "They were difficult conditions for sure. We started late for our first run and by then it was full mud. It was tricky, but good to do some runs to get used to the car," he said.
With the temperature nudging 4°C, drivers are bracing themselves for more mud as the ice and snow seen on the pre-event recce begins to thaw.
"On the recce this road was basically clear with snow banks on either side but today it turned out to be a mud race," explained Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala. "From our position a long way down the start order we had no chance. This was quite extreme though - I don't expect we'll see anything quite this bad in the rally."
Drivers will head to Monte-Carlo for Thursday's start ceremony before the first competitive stage, Entrevaux - Val de Chalvagne - Rouaine, begins at 2018hrs.
Find out how to follow the rally live and direct at plus.wrc.com