Thierry Neuville topped the times in the Rally Deutschland pre-event shakedown, nearly a second quicker than Citroën returnee Andreas Mikkelsen and 1.2 seconds up on championship rival Sébastien Ogier in third.
The drivers faced tricky conditions, with slippery asphalt present under the sections covered by trees, while mud and stones were dragged onto the stages after every pass from corner cutting.
The top eight drivers all set their quickest times in their very first run as a result, forced to cope with increasingly slippery conditions after every pass through the shakedown.
If conditions stay the same, Neuville may find himself in the box seat for Friday’s stages, given his position as first on the road as championship leader.
“Mud and stones were then dragged onto the racing line and it was impossible to improve,” commented Mikkelsen. “I hope it won’t be the same thing tomorrow, because all three Citroën cars are starting quite well down the order.”
Behind Ogier – who is running a brand new Fiesta WRC chassis for this event – was Kris Meeke in fourth, 2.4 seconds off the pace set by Neuville. Like his team-mate Mikkelsen, he was worried about the increasingly slippery conditions for cars starting further down the field.
“We’re likely to face this kind of situation during a good part of the rally and it’ll be all the more of a challenge starting quite far down the running order,” he explained. “We’ll see what happens with the weather: at a push, I’d prefer it if it rains a lot, so that the water washes the mud off the road as more cars complete the stages.”
Craig Breen rounded out an excellent shakedown performance for the French marque with the fifth fastest time, heading the Toyota pair of Jari-Matti Latvala and Juho Hänninen in sixth and seventh.
The WRC2 field bucked the trend set by the top category drivers by going quickest in their final runs. Pontus Tidemand was the sole Skoda Fabia in the Top 5, going three tenths quicker than Gus Greensmith. The Brit led a French trio of Eric Camilli, Yoann Bonato and Pierre-Louis Loubet, who went third, fourth and fifth quickest respectively.
Having competed in the main WRC category in Poland and Finland, Teemu Suninen returns to the WRC2 category this weekend, and went seventh quickest through the shakedown test in his Ford Fiesta R5.
Only four drivers are participating in the JWRC category this weekend, and Nicolas Ciamin continued his winning form from Finland by going quickest through the shakedown test amongst the junior field. Julius Tannert, who won the ADAC Opel Rallye Cup in 2015 – an all-tarmac German national championship – was 1.7 seconds off the pace, ahead of Terry Folb and Nil Solans.
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