The Shakedown for Wales Rally GB ended in a 1-2-3 for Volkswagen Motorsport, though with Andreas Mikkelsen forcing his more illustrious teammates to share second place as he paced the field with a best run of 2:01.3 through the 3km stage.
With two hours of running on the Clocaenog test Mikkelsen’s move to the top of the times owed much to a half time set-up change. Mikkelsen later said he preferred his second set-up and it showed in the times as he improved by a second and a half and moved up from fourth to fastest with his third of four runs.
Before him it had been Sebastien Ogier who had his Polo at the top of the times. After the earliest runs, conducted on a slick route the no double world champion had a second or more advantage over Mikkelsen, before improvements from Ott Tanak and Kris Meeke pared back his lead as well as pushing Mikkelsen back down the order.
Volkswagen’s domination of the top spot was complete after Mikkelsen and Jari-Matti Latvala made their third runs. Mikkelsen, who has yet to add a WRC win to his career, took the top spot and Latvala making up from an off colour start that had him foundering in the lower reaches of the WRC order.
Robert Kubica was the best of the Fiestas, 0.9 seconds slower than Mikkelsen through the stage ahead of Ott Tanak, one of several drivers who must have designs on claiming the M-Sport seat to be vacated by the retiring Mikko Hirvonen. The Finn himself was only eighth fastest behind his M-Sport teammate Elfyn Evans and Kris Meeke who set identical times.
Hayden Paddon was ninth fastest, the Kiwi the best of the three Hyundais with Thierry Neuville eleventh behind tenth placed Mads Ostberg and Juho Hanninen who was thirteenth, one place behind veteran Henning Solberg, returning for a now increasingly rare WRC outing.
www.theCheckeredFlag.co.uk will have day-by-day coverage of Wales Rally GB throughout the weekend.