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M-Sport’s Sebastien Ogier started the World Rally Championship’s penultimate round in Spain by winning Thursday evening’s opening stage to lead the rally overnight from Hyundai title rival Thierry Neuville.
Ogier – who trails Neuville by seven points in the standings – completed the tight and twisty two-mile asphalt test in 3m35.3s, besting Neuville’s time by a brilliant 3.7 seconds.
“It won’t be easy for the rest of the weekend,” said Ogier.
“We had a good strategy on the tyres but tomorrow we have a little less tyres than everyone else.”
Neuville rolled on the pre-event shakedown, and thanked his mechanics at the end of SS1 for repairing his i20 Coupe WRC ready for the start.
He will open the order on Friday, running first on the road in the rally’s gravel phase, clearing a path for those behind.
Ott Tanak made sure all three title rivals were at the head of the order, the Toyota driver ending the stage just 0.5s behind Neuville. Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen said he felt “positive” as he took fourth, ahead of Ogier’s Ford Fiesta team-mate Elfyn Evans.
Dani Sordo returns for his home event after a lengthy absence in the car he is sharing with Hayden Paddon and took sixth, ahead of WRC2 leader Kalle Rovanpera.
The R5 cars of the support category often prove competitive on the opening superspecials.
Behind the 18-year-old Skoda Fabia driver, Craig Breen was the leading Citroen driver in eighth, ahead of WRC2 champion-elect Jan Kopecky and Toyota team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi.
Petter Solberg was 14th on the first stage Volkswagen’s new Polo R5 car has completed in competition.
The 2003 WRC champion was by far the best of the returning WRC stars on this event.
Nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb was 15.9s slower than Ogier and well behind a group of R5 cars, as was Gymkhana star Ken Block, who ended the stage 26.5s down on Ogier.
|1||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||3m35.3s||–|
|2||Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||3m39.0s||3.7s|
|3||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||3m39.5s||4.2s|
|4||Andreas Mikkelsen, A.Jager||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||3m40.9s||5.6s|
|5||Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||3m41.3s||6.0s|
|6||Dani Sordo, C.del Barrio||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||3m42.8s||7.5s|
|7||Kalle Rovanpera, J.Halttunen||Skoda Motorsport||Skoda||3m43.9s||8.6s|
|8||Craig Breen, S.Martin||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||3m44.0s||8.7s|
|9||Jan Kopecky, P.Dresler||Skoda Motorsport||Skoda||3m44.3s||9.0s|
|10||Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||3m45.0s||9.7s|