There are good first days at the office, and then there’s Andreas Mikkelsen‘s debut drive for Hyundai! OK so it’s early days and everything to play for with two days of asphalt running still to come, but the recently signed Norwegian currently finds himself sitting pretty at the top of the leaderboard after 6 stages of intense competition under the baking Catalan sun!
The morning loop saw the crews tackle a pair of short blasts through Caseres and Bot, before the longest stage of the rally, Terra Alta. it’s probably fair to say that Terra Alta is one of the most demanding on this year’s rally thanks to its mix of gravel and tarmac sections, and its length, a full 38.95km! It’s also a stage which allowed Mikkelsen to shine, and he wasted no time in charging up the leaderboard to grab the lead from Ott Tanak and Mads Ostberg.
Mikkelsen and Hyundai didn’t have it all their own way, with Ostberg fighting back in the opening stage of the afternoon, the 12.5km blast through Caseres. Ostberg was briefly able to depose his countryman (by a scant 0.3 seconds) and looked to have found his rhythm, but he lost time in SS5 and was forced to complete SS6 with the heater stuck on full, issues which (understandably considering the already scorching temperatures) saw him cede the place once more.
The change of positions owed as much to Mikkelsen’s pace as it did Ostberg’s hesitance though, the Hyundai man coming home second fastest overall, a mere 0.8 seconds behind a resurgent Chris Meeke. His performance through the last stage of the day was blunted by a damper failure, but it remains an impressively polished debut.
It’s important to recognise the understated brilliance of Sebastien Ogier‘s Friday performance, one which has both measured and scintillatingly fast. Indeed, Ogier currently sits second overall and remains in touching distance of Mikkelsen (1.4 seconds to the good), and all that despite having played the role of glorified road sweeper most of the morning! Pressed as to why he’d been able to remain in touch despite his disadvantageous running order, Ogier was quick to mention his setup and also his ability to make up time on Terra Alta’s tarmac sections, all of which bodes well for M-Sport in the days to come.
Meeke struggled to find form throughout the morning loop and at one point looked to be in danger of loosing touch with the leading pack, yet his performance through Bot was backed up by a storming run through the final stage of the day, Terra Alta. It was a performance good enough for him to end the day third overall, and it might well have been even higher had it not been for a spin midway through SS4.
Tanak couldn’t continue his run of good form from the morning and therefore slipped down the order, ending the day in fourth overall, just ahead of Ostberg. The Norwegian was 3.7 seconds of Dani Sordo, with the Spaniard having endured a day which could best be characterised as having being ‘up and down’ thanks to variable grip, something no doubt echoed by seventh placed Thierry Neuville. The championship challenger found that his soft option tyres were far from ideal for the morning loop and spent the rest of the day paying for his mistake!
Toyota’s rally hasn’t gone to plan thus far with Juho Hannifin leading its charge from a lowly eighth overall, just ahead of Stephane Lefebvre and the Yaris of team mate Esapekka Lappi, the latter having dropped half a minute thanks to a partial brake failure. Team leader Jari-Matti Latvala was in seventh for most of the afternoon but was forced to retire the Yaris before the final run through to Terra Alta, with an engine gremlins cited as the primary cause.
Elfyn Evans currently lies just outside the top 10 in eleventh and has struggled to make an impression all day, a situation hardly helped by a puncture! Evans be looking to make amends in the coming sealed surface tests but has much work to do, he sits 16.9 seconds behind Lappi and a massive 1:22.4 off the leader.
WRC 2 has seen Timo Suninen romp away from Simone Tempestini, with M-Sport’s rising star ending the day a crushing 1:17.2 seconds ahead! Performances like this will no doubt see the young Finn spend rather less time in an R5 and rather more time in a pukka WRC car next year…
JWRC has proved every bit as close as we’d hoped and it remains all to play for, with Nicolas Ciamin currently ahead of arch rival and championship leader Nils Solans by a handy 22.1 seconds, though the Frenchman must still rely on the Spaniard hitting trouble it he’s to wrest the title from him.
Rally Spain plays host to the final of the hotly contested JWRC category, one which has seen Solans net a trio of wins and a pair of second places, enough to put him 20 points clear of nearest rival Ciamin. Solans Spanish ambitions were dealt a blow during Shakedown however, when he crossed the line fifth and last of all the JWRC entries, 16.5 seconds slower than quickest man Ciamin!
Rally de Espana Day 1 Top Ten
1) Andreas Mikkelsen – Hyundai i20 WRC – 1:11.56.3
2) Sebastien Ogier – Ford Fiesta WRC – 1:11.57.7
3) Kris Meeke – Citroen C3 WRC – 1:11.59.3
4) Ott Tanak – Ford Fiesta WRC – 1:12.02.6
5) Mads Ostberg – Ford Fiesta WRC – 1:12.03.4
6) Dani Sordo – Hyundai i20 WRC – 1:12.07.1
7) Thierry Neuville – Hyundai i20 WRC – 1:12.09.1
8) Juho Hannifin – Toyota Yaris WRC – 1:12.29.9
9) Stephane Lefebvre – Citroen C3 WRC – 1:12.58.5
10) Esapekka Lappi – Toyota Yaris WRC – 1:13.01.8