Elfyn Evans stormed to the top of the standings in Rally Poland’s opening 2.5km superspecial, going nearly a second faster than title rivals Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier who were second and third fastest respectively.
Much like in Rally Argentina earlier in the season, it appeared the DMACK tyres – unique to Evans’ Fiesta WRC in the premier category – helped make a difference in the difficult conditions, which Neuville alluded to when assessing his own chances for tomorrow.
“It was a good stage for us,” he said at the finish. “The car feels great, I’m happy with my time. I had a very close battle with Ogier but we managed to do well.
“Only Evans with the DMACK tyre was a bit quicker but we knew he’d be fast, so it’s fine.”
Road position and the potential effects of sweeping if it stayed dry, or being stuck in ruts if it was very muddy, were a hot topic leading into the event. Neuville was asked what starting position would be best for tomorrow morning’s stages.
“2nd,” he said wryly.
Jari-Matti Latvala was fourth fastest despite running wide and glancing the armco on the outside of the final turn. He was just ahead of Ott Tänak in fifth, who has a large Estonian contingent supporting him this weekend in the wake of his first victory at Rally Italy three weeks ago.
Esapekka Lappi had gone sixth fastest, but was immediately in panic mode when pulling up to the timecheck at the finish. Warning lights ablaze on the dash of his Toyota Yaris, the Finn expressed his unhappiness in mostly monosyllabic answers.
“The engine,” he replied curtly when asked what troubles had hit his car. “I don’t know [what is wrong], but the smell is bad.”
Hayden Paddon and Stéphane Lefebvre set near identical times to Lappi, being classified seventh and eight respectively. Just behind the Frenchman was his Citroën team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen, who earlier in the day announced he would represent the team once more in Rally Germany. This has put pressure on the remaining drivers in the Citroën stable, which was reflected in Lefebvre’s exact approach to the stage.
“We did a specific setup for this stage,” he explained. “The car was a bit too stiff in some corners, so we had some understeer.”
The slowest 2017 specification WRC car was debutant Teemu Suninen, who was kicking himself for being 2.8 seconds off the pace in the opening stage of the rally. When asked of his performance in his first even competitive WRC stage, he described it as “not too good.”
“It’s difficult to find anything good to say,” he continued. “[The problem] was just mistakes, driving too carefully, and problems with the throttle. We’ll try to improve for tomorrow.”
In the WRC Trophy for pre-2017 specification WRC machines, Jean-Michel Raoux went fastest at the wheel of a Citroën DS3 WRC, beating Trophy regular Valeriy Gorban by 1.5 seconds. Despite many of the top drivers hoping for an easier time with drier stages, Raoux was one of the few hoping the inclement weather would continue into Friday.
“I like these conditions, it’s good for me,” he said. “I like when it’s very slippy. I hope it rains!”
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Pontus Tidemand kicked off his attempt to win six rallies in a row with the fastest stage time in SS1, establishing a 1.2 second lead over British privateer Gus Greensmith.
While the factory Skoda driver was looking imperious as usual, it was an impressive time from Greensmith, having picked up a right-rear puncture midway through the stage.
Ole Christian Veiby was third fastest, marginally ahead of Osain Pryce, the Brit making his WRC2 debut thanks to a prize drive for winning the Drive DMACK Cup last season.
It was far from plain sailing for all, as ninth fastest driver Benito Guerra explained at the end of the stage.
“It’s difficult stage because the surface is changing all the time,” he said. “It goes from gravel to a little tarmac, then to broken tarmac, so it’s difficult to know when you can push.”
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Nil Solans‘ domination of the JWRC category has been put on hold by Terry Folb, who put three tenths over the championship leader through the opening stage.
Folb’s compatriot Nicolas Ciamin – who has finished 2nd in both JWRC events this season – was third fastest, just under a second slower than Solans.
Dennis Rådström and Julius Tannert rounded out the top five, with JWRC debutant Emil Lindholm – son of former Peugeot works driver Sebastian Lindholm – just behind the pair in sixth.
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