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Wed 25 Oct 2023

Neuville sets the tempo in CER shakedown

Thierry Neuville blasted to the fastest time on Wednesday afternoon’s shakedown at the inaugural edition of Central European Rally.

Neuville, who drives a Hyundai i20 N Rally1, was in high spirits after outpacing FIA World Rally Championship leader Kalle Rovanperä by 1.4sec in the dry asphalt warm-up near to the Passau service park in the south-east corner of Germany.

The Belgian posted the benchmark time on his first run through the 3.62km test and, although he is no longer in contention to win this year’s drivers’ title, remains focused on delivering a strong showing at this penultimate round of the season.

“It looks interesting out there,” he said. “The stages look good, challenging of course, but they were all pretty nice to be honest. It will be more about getting the feeling in the car and everything after so many gravel rallies.”

Keeping Toyota GR Yaris team-mate Elfyn Evans below him on the timesheets is the primary objective for 23-year-old Rovanperä. The Finn could be celebrating back-to-back world titles come Sunday should he succeed in maintaining the 31-point lead he currently holds over his Welsh team-mate.

“I think this week is going to be quite tough overall,” Rovanperä admitted. “Every day is a bit different and there has been a lot of work on the pace notes. It's going to be a tough weekend."

M-Sport Ford Puma star Ott Tänak was just one-tenth of a second slower than Rovanperä in third with Evans trailing seven-tenths further behind. A further 0.6sec back was Esapekka Lappi in his Hyundai, closely followed by Toyota-driving pair Sébastien Ogier and Takamoto Katsuta.

Teemu Suninen placed eighth overall while Puma pairing Pierre-Louis Loubet and Grégoire Munster completed the top 10. Loubet, who is starting his first rally with new co-driver Benjamin Veillas, was initially delayed by an engine issue.