Thierry Neuville topped the time sheets in his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC on the second stage of the rally to lead reigning champion Sebastian Ogier as the competitors head in to the first full day of action.
Ogier was first on the road after the cancellation of the first stage, but it was Neuville who set the time sheets alight to finish over seven seconds ahead of the M-Sport Ford driver.
Speaking at the end of the stage Ogier commented, “Happy to be here after two tricky night stages. It’s hard to start in the dark. The main aim was to get through safely. Quite a bit of loose gravel in here, it was slippery but not a bad stage. Maybe too careful in places. It was fun.”
Neuville’s time of 15:01.01 meant the Hyundai driver leads the event over Sebastian Ogier by 8.5 seconds* after the first two stages. The modest Belgian commented at the end of the stage “It was okay. Maybe too soft – the car was moving about too much. I didn’t like it but I tried to do my best.”
Juho Hänninen showed promise in the Toyota Yaris WRC to finish third fastest, “So it was okay, a reasonable start,” he said. “Not an easy start – we had to wait for half an hour [on the start line] and everything was cold. I know the car is good – it’s up to the driver now.”
Kris Meeke came home in fourth place to make it four different manufacturers in the top four, “Quite tricky, a lot of stuff on the road. We knew about the ice, but it was hard to see – very patchy. A steady start.” he commented.
M-Sport driver Ott Tänak took fifth fastest ahead of Elfyn Evans on his return to the top WRC class after a season running in WRC2.
Craig Breen, Dani Sordo, and Jari-Matti Latvalla rounded out the WRC competitors while Stéphane Lefebvre suffered mechanical issues in his Citroën C3 WRC and stopped on stage.
Andreas Mikkelsen shone in the WRC2 class as he recorded a top 10 position as the fastest in his class as he out-paced Škoda team-mate Jan Kopecký. It wasn’t an easy run for the former VW works driver, “It was chaos.” he said. “We started with cold tyres and I passed a Porsche in stage when it went off. It’s my first time ever in this car on slicks. I tried to get used to them on the road section but it’s different! Safely though. No risks. It will be a long rally.”
Kevin Abbring brought the Hyundai i20 R5 home in third place in class ahead of Eric Camilli in the M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5.
Raphaël Astier leads the WRC3 class in his Peugeot 208 R2, holding a 26.7 second advantage over the second in class Cédric Althaus in his Renault Clio RS R3T and Luca Panzani in a similar Clio.
In the RGT Cup Francois Delecour led the way ahead of Fabio Andolfi and Gabriele Noberasco. Pre-event favourite Romain Dumas in his Porsche 997 GT3 RS 4.0 retired on stage after crashing.
* All competitors on SS1 with the exception of Neuville were given the stage time of 12:10.9 that Ogier recorded, Neuville recorded 12:10.2.