Thierry Neuville started his bid for back-to-back WRC victories in perfect fashion when he won Thursday evening’s opening speed test at PZM 73rd Rally Poland.
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 seems to have less gravel on the top this year, with more of an asphalt / concrete base.
The Belgian, who scored his second career victory in Italy earlier this month, defeated Sébastien Ogier in the headline heat at the Mikolajki Arena special stage to take an overnight lead of two-tenths of a second in his Hyundai i20.
Thousands of fans watched as drivers competed head-to-head around the sweeping curves of the purpose-built test on the edge of Mikolajki and Neuville distanced FIA World Rally Championship leader Ogier by four-tenths of a second to claim the early advantage.
“I tried to be smooth and take care of the tyres because we need them later in the rally,” said Neuville. “The surface was abrasive and it was also more slippery than I thought. I wasn’t totally happy with my driving, but beating Seb is always good.”
Volkswagen Polo R pilot Andreas Mikkelsen claimed second by beating Dani Sordo in their duel, while Ott Tänak completed the top three after his Ford Fiesta RS outpaced Hayden Paddon. The Estonian was 0.1sec behind Mikkelsen and the same margin ahead of Ogier.
Jari-Matti Latvala was fifth in another Polo R and Stéphane Lefebvre rounded off the top six in Citroën’s DS 3. The leading sextet was covered by just 0.9sec.
Friday’s first full day comprises two identical loops of four stages north-east of Mikolajki before a second pass around the arena test. Drivers fire up their engines at 06.30 CEST and face 119.42km of action before returning for the overnight halt.