WRC championship leader Thierry Neuville was comfortably fastest at Thursday morning’s Rally Turkey shakedown as competitors had their first chance to sample the new event’s gravel roads at rally speed.
The Belgian, who signed a new three-year contract with Hyundai Motorsport yesterday, was quickest by 1.5sec from arch-rival Sébastien Ogier through the rough and rocky 4.70km stage close to the Asparan service park.
Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top three in a Toyota Yaris, 0.5sec adrift of Ogier’s Ford Fiesta.
Hot sunshine welcomed the crews, although thunder rumbled around the service park during the first of what was just the three obligatory passes for most teams.
Neuville was first into the stage, but Mads Østberg took advantage of the cleaning roads to go fastest in the first run in a Citroën C3. Latvala topped the times in the second pass before Neuville gained the full benefit of the swept roads to move to the front.
“I pushed a bit more in the last run, and the car felt excellent in these conditions. We know the car is strong on such rough roads, but we also had good grip in the second pass, and I hope we benefit from that during the rally,” said Neuville.
After practising all the stages during the two-day recce, Neuville admitted the twisty and rocky tracks would require a revised strategy from normal.
“It’s like a rally in Cyprus or Greece, but a little bit rougher on the first day. It’s a different approach to this rally for us being first on the road. We always have to push a bit more to get decent stage times from that position, but this weekend we have to consider it’s riskier to push harder than the others,” he added.
Ott Tänak stalled his Toyota Yaris’ engine in the first pass but recovered to go fourth fastest. Elfyn Evans and Esapekka Lappi completed the top six in a Fiesta and Yaris respectively.
Andreas Mikkelsen stopped with a transmission problem after just one run, and his i20 was towed back to the service park for repairs.
The first competitive stage gets underway this evening, with a blast around the marina at Marmaris for the Super Special test.
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