Elfyn Evans grabbed the early lead of Orlen 74th Rally Poland after winning Thursday night’s opening speed test at Mikolajki Arena.
Stage info: SS1
Mikolajki Arena 1, 2.50km
The rally roars into life at a purpose-built super special stage next to Mikolajki’s service park. Two cars at a time tackle the short test, scene of Jari-Matti Latvala’s 2009 heartbreak when he crashed in the final stage and wrecked Ford’s 1-2 finish. The surface has less gravel on top this year and has a harder base.
The Welshman beat Dani Sordo in their head-to-head battle around the spectacular 2.50km test on the edge of the rally service park to snatch the lead by 0.8sec in his Ford Fiesta.
“The weather is looking quite unsettled but it’s the same for everyone, so we’ll do what we can. If the weather is extreme it might not suit our tyres, but otherwise we should be OK,” he said.
A thunderstorm forced the cancellation of the start ceremony in Mikolajki this afternoon. However, the gravel roads in the stage were not as bad as feared as the surface dried.
WRC title contenders Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier duelled in a thrilling headline heat in front of the large crowds. Neuville came out on top in his Hyundai i20 by a tenth of a second to claim second place, with Ogier third in his Fiesta.
Jari-Matti Latvala edged Ott Tänak by a similar margin in their heat, Latvala’s Toyota Yaris claiming fourth ahead of the Estonian’s Fiesta. Hayden Paddon, Stéphane Lefebvre and Andreas Mikkelsen were tied in fifth.
Mikkelsen and Lefebvre reported understeer in their Citroën C3s, although both won their heats. Mikkelsen defeated Mads Østberg and Lefebvre saw off World Rally Car debutant Teemu Suninen.
Esapekka Lappi beat team-mate Juho Hänninen, but Lappi was worried about a potential engine problem in his Toyota Yaris. “Something is wrong with the engine. I don’t know what, but the smell is bad,” said the Finn, who was seventh.
Suninen was disappointed with his debut. “Not good, difficult to find anything good to say. Mistakes, taking it too carefully and not good on the throttle. I need to improve tomorrow,” said the Fiesta pilot.
The rally resumes early on Friday when drivers tackle two identical loops of four speed tests east of Mikolajki. A 30-minute service splits the loops, with a second pass at the arena closing the action. The nine tests cover 111.84km.