Martin Koci was the form man on day one at Dayinsure Wales Rally GB after carving out a 34.2sec overnight lead in foggy and muddy conditions.
The Slovakian headed the Junior WRC leaderboard in his Citroën DS 3 R3T after all eight gravel stages in the mid-Wales forests and set four fastest times along the way.
French youngster, Yohan Rossel – fresh from his second-place finish at the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse earlier this month – was Koci’s closest challenger during the early exchanges but he dropped almost 30 seconds on SS3 at Hafren after choosing a set up that was too hard for the weather conditions. That allowed Simone Tempestini to edge past into second.
The 2016 Junior WRC champion found a good rhythm as the morning drew to a close and went on to set fastest times on three of the day’s remaining five stages. But he was unable to haul in Koci at the head of the leaderboard as the competitive kilometres were chalked off.
Koci said: “I’m very happy to be leading because it’s been very tricky so far with lots of rocks and mud on the road. We had to be careful today but it was important to keep some speed. Our lead is good but there’s still two days to go.”
Tempestini, who can also add the WRC 3 championship to his title haul with a strong result in Wales, ended the day with a 1min 39.7sec advantage over Rossel, while Vincent Dubert completed the leaderboard – albeit more than three minutes off the rally-leading pace.
William Wagner failed to make it to the end of the leg after rolling in SS3. The Frenchman is expected to restart on day two.