Kris Meeke led the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse after a dominant performance through Friday morning’s opening speed test.
Stage info: SS1
Pietrosella - Albitreccia 1, 31.20km
There’s no easy start as drivers are greeted by some of Corsica’s toughest roads. Last year’s opening 26km have been replaced by a new 7.40km section that follows a twisty, bumpy road before joining the 2016 route at the famous Pietrosella hairpin. It’s onwards and upwards along a poorly surfaced road to the legendary Col de Bellevalle hairpin. It widens on the climb to Bisinao, before a narrow road with many surface changes leads to the finish in Albitreccia.
He stunned his rivals in the 31.20km special stage from Pietrosella to Albitreccia, stopping the clocks 5.7sec quicker than Sébastien Ogier and 11.0sec clear of Thierry Neuville.
The asphalt mountain roads on the west of the island were mainly dry, but damp patches under the trees near the end prompted caution. Not that they slowed Meeke’s Citroën C3, who even had time to shrug off a nose bleed in the stage!
“I enjoyed it and the car’s working fantastic. Thanks to my team for the hard work we put in during the test. A good start, but there’s a long way to go,” he said.
Ogier was fastest in the opening section in his Ford Fiesta but dropped time shortly after on the bumpy roads. “I didn’t drive well in that section. I wasn’t so happy on the bumps so I took it easy,” he explained.
Neuville shook his head as his Hyundai i20 Coupe pulled up at the finish. “The last part was very slippery, it was getting very dirty. I tried to drive well, but I wasn’t 100 per cent happy with the car. It understeered and I went off the line a few times,” said the Belgian.
Ott Tänak and Dani Sordo were tied in fourth, Tänak also complaining of understeer in his Fiesta. Craig Breen completed the top six in his C3, the Irishman happy with his performance having changed his asphalt driving style to make it smoother.
Also suffering understeer was seventh-fastest Jari-Matti Latvala, but Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Juho Hänninen encountered more serious problems.
The Finn went wide and hit a bridge, stopping several hundred metres later to inspect a damaged steering arm. A fire at the rear right of the Yaris delayed him further and he finally ended the test having dropped more than 13 minutes.