Sébastien Ogier laid down the gauntlet to his rivals by winning the opening speed test at the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse on Friday morning.
Stage info: SS1
Acqua Doria - Albitreccia 1, 49.72km
There’s no easy start as drivers are greeted by some of Corsica’s toughest roads. This stage climbs from the coast to Tassinca village on asphalt that is fast in places and twisty in others, before crossing the Col de Gradello and onto the famous Pietrosella hairpin via a worn and bumpy surface. 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.
Although he was briefly headed in the early splits by Kris Meeke and Thierry Neuville, Ogier completed the marathon 49.72km test south-east of Ajaccio 4.0sec faster than Meeke, and delivered a warning that there was more to come.
“It’s not so easy to find a rhythm,” said the Volkswagen Polo R driver. “I think my notes were a bit too slow and slowing me down a bit but maybe it’s better that way at the start of such a long rally.”
Meeke was 0.6sec faster at the opening split after 8.20km but a spin cost several seconds and the Ulsterman was delighted to net second fastest in Citroën’s DS 3.
“I spun at a hairpin not far into the stage. I immediately got back into the rhythm and without that time I would have been quickest. Not so bad on a dirty road,” he explained.
Dani Sordo was only 0.8sec behind Meeke in his Hyundai i20, the Spaniard struggling with understeer and brake issues near the finish. Team-mate Thierry Neuville reported similar problems en route to fourth, 4.0sec behind the Spaniard, the Belgian complaining that he could not commit to the apex of corners.
Fifth-placed Hayden Paddon lamented inconsistent pace notes that were too fast in places and too slow in others, while Jari-Matti Latvala was over-cautious and struggled to find a rhythm.
Andreas Mikkeslen was more than 20sec off Ogier’s pace in his Polo R, the Norwegian feeling his left foot had ‘gone to sleep’ due to a vibration feeding back through the brake pedal.
Conditions were dry and sunny, with temperatures forecast to climb to 26˚C this afternoon, and all the leading drivers opted for Michelin’s hard compound tyres for the opening two stages.