Not even muddy conditions could stop Sebastien Ogier who dominated the opening leg of the Wales Rally GB with fastest time on five of the six stages contested.
The 2015 world champion Ogier heads Kris Meeke (Citroen) by 13.5sec with Volkswagen team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen a further 17.9sec behind.
Torrential rain soaked the forests of mid-Wales and Ogier benefited from opening the road in the slippery conditions. He won all three morning stages to build a lead of 12.9sec over Meeke.
Although Meeke stopped hit back with fastest time through the repeated Hafren test, Ogier bounced back to win the final two stages.
“Kris is driving very well and it won’t be easy to win this rally. I have to focus on myself and not make a mistake and I’m just happy to finish a difficult day without trouble,” said Ogier.
Meeke emphasised his priority was to help Citroen defeat Hyundai in their battle for second in the manufacturers’ championship rather than pursuing Ogier. His only incident came in the opening stage when he almost spun after clipping a bank.
The only challenge to the leading duo came from Jari-Matti Latvala, but it was short-lived. The Finn was second behind Ogier in the opening test but ditched his Polo R early in the next stage and retired.
Mads Ostberg had a broken rubber on a door which allowed the cockpit to become a mud bath and he held a comfortable fourth, 35.7sec ahead of Dani Sordo’s Hyundai i20. The Spaniard was untroubled except for a spin.
Ott Tanak struggled for outright pace but a clean run earned sixth ahead of Hayden Paddon. The Kiwi suffered hydraulic problems in his i20, leaving him unable to use the paddle shift gearchange or handbrake.
“It has been one of those days today,” said Paddon. We had a tough morning loop because the stages, despite looking slippery in places, seemed to have quite a bit of grip. We then experienced hydraulic problems in SS5 (Sweet Lamb 2), which meant we had to run the final stage (Myherin 2) without paddle shift, with no handbrake and no gear display, so it was a challenge to say the least.
“We stayed calm to get to the end and tomorrow is another day.”
Elfyn Evans ended the morning fifth but a puncture and stall in his Ford Fiesta RS dropped him to eighth. Lorenzo Bertelli and a flu-hit Stephane Lefebvre completed the top 10, the latter spinning his DS 3 in the final stage.
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Kevin Abbring were early casualties. Neuville lost the left-rear wheel from his i20 when the wheel studs broke and the Dutchman stopped when a leak in the water system overheated and wrecked his engine.
Broken rear suspension in the final stage sent Martin Prokop tumbling from eighth, while a puncture and last stage overshoot into the undergrowth ruined Robert Kubica’s day.
Leg 2 is a marathon with nine stages covering 142.32km, of which the final two are in darkness. After leaving the Deeside base at 5am drivers face more than 17 hours at the wheel.
VIDEO: Morning Stages
VIDEO: Afternoon Stages
POSITIONS: Leg 1 – Wales Rally GB
|1||Sebastien Ogier||Volkswagen Motorsport||Volkswagen||1h16m03.5s|
|2||Kris Meeke||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||13.5s|
|3||Andreas Mikkelsen||Volkswagen Motorsport II||Volkswagen||31.4s|
|4||Mads Ostberg||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||43.0s|
|5||Dani Sordo||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||1m18.7s|
|6||Ott Tanak||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||1m34.9s|
|7||Hayden Paddon||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||2m03.5s|
|8||Elfyn Evans||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||2m21.6s|
|9||Lorenzo Bertelli||FWRT s.r.l.||Ford||3m21.4s|
|10||Stephane Lefebvre||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||3m25.3s|