Sebastien Ogier heads the Rally de Espana at the end of a dry and dusty opening leg on the mixed surface World Rally Championship event.
The Volkswagen ace completed the six gravel speed tests with a 36.6sec advantage in his Polo R as potential challengers dropped time in the morning due to a combination of hanging dust and the low sun.
Team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, who must finish ahead of Ogier to keep the title race alive into next month’s final round in Wales, leapt to second in the final special stage to head a quartet of drivers covered by 4.8sec.
Ogier was first on the road and usually this is a disadvantage as he would sweep the roads for his pursuers. However, visibility was the key factor with others have to slow for the dust.
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville led briefly in the morning and was just 4.6sec behind Ogier until he lost 2min 20sec in the final stage. He was distracted by dust inside his i20 and hit a bank, puncturing the rear right tyre which he stopped to change.
Latvala hit a rock in the opening test to begin a frustrating day for the Finn. He did not have the speed to match Ogier and languished in seventh for much of the leg until his final stage charge up the order.
Mads Ostberg was 0.6sec behind in third in a Citroen DS3, but the Norwegian was frustrated after being held up in Kris Meeke’s dust this morning and by Neuville’s dust this afternoon. Ostberg is 0.1sec ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen’s Polo R.
Mikko Hirvonen enjoyed a troublefree run to fifth in his Ford Fiesta RS, a further 4.1sec behind, with Robert Kubica completing the top six despite a final stage spin.
Dani Sordo dropped 30sec waiting on the startline of the penultimate test when co-driver Marc Marti miscalculated their start time.
Meeke retired after sliding wide in SS3 and dropping two wheels off the road. He damaged two tyres and although he replaced one in the stage, he had only one spare and stopped on the following liaison section.
Hayden Paddon became the first New Zealander to win a stage since Possum Bourne in 1999 after topping the timesheets in SS3.
“To win our first stage is obviously very special,” said Paddon.
“It was particularly unexpected. We had a good run in SS3, but there was a lot of dust for everyone and we were just trying to push through all that. But still we’re very happy to get first stage win and be sitting in third [at that point].”
However, he lost six minutes after spinning his i20 into a bank at the first corner of the next stage and changing two punctured tyres. He later spun and damaged his rear suspension in SS7.
Elfyn Evans had a torrid day. He went off the road three times in his Fiesta RS, retiring after the final occasion with a damaged radiator.
Sitting just outside the top-10 in 11th is US rally star Ken Block who had a steady day after hitting a barrier on the previous night’s superstage in Barcelona.
Teams will convert their cars from gravel to asphalt specification ahead of tomorrow’s second leg, when drivers face six stages covering 159.16km.
VIDEO: Morning stages
VIDEO: Afternoon stages
POSITIONS: Leg 1 – Rally de Espana
|5||Mikko Hirvonen||M-Sport Ford||+0:41.4|
|6||Robert Kubica||M-Sport Ford||+0:57.0|
|8||Martin Prokop||Czech Ford||+2:18.2|
|10||Nasser Al-Attiyah||M-Sport Ford||+4:50.4*|
* WRC-2 entry