Andreas Mikkelsen is leading in the standings of Rally de España after the first day of the race. His advantage is 1.4sec in front of Sebastien Ogier (M-Sport). Kris Meeke of Citroen is third, at 3sec from Mikkelsen.
The Norwegian heads up a tantalising battle for victory honours in the 11th round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship, with just three seconds separating the podium positions and less than 13 seconds between the top-seven.
Mikkelsen and his fellow Norwegian co-driver Anders Jæger got quickly up-to-speed in their Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC through the opening loop. Making differential changes after the first two gravel stages, the pair enjoyed a spirited run through Terra Alta to claim Hyundai Motorsport’s 68th stage win of the season and to lead the rally by lunchtime, a position in which they would end the day.
“We could not have asked for a better start to our Hyundai Motorsport career”, Mikkelsen said.
“It has been a good day and I have been pleased with our approach. We started this morning carefully, to understand the car’s behaviour and generally just finding our feet. A few changes to the settings allowed us to gain some time through the first Terra Alta run. The car felt very stable and there were no surprises. In the afternoon, we became more and more confident in the car. The final stage wasn’t ideal; we thought we had a puncture so took it a bit easier. We made it to the end safely and it’s nice to be fighting at the very top. It’s really close but it has definitely been a positive start for Anders and myself.”
Andreas Mikkelsen is leading in the standings of Rally de España after the first day of the race
— Hyundai Motorsport (@HMSGOfficial) October 6, 2017
— Andreas Mikkelsen (@AMikkelsenRally) October 6, 2017
The lead battle was incredibly tight and three drivers topped the leaderboard over the six mixed surface speed tests covering 115.90km.
Sunshine and high temperatures ensured the dry gravel tracks west of Salou favoured the late starters. Those early in the order swept loose gravel aside to leave a cleaner and faster line for those behind.
The cleaning was not as pronounced as expected this morning and Ott Tänak led initially. Mikkelsen’s choice of hard compound tyres helped him move into a slender 0.6sec advantage over fellow Norwegian Mads Østberg at the midpoint.
Østberg edged ahead before Mikkelsen regained the initiative and held off a charging Ogier, despite a final stage glitch
Road opener Ogier endured the worst of the loose gravel but was sublime in the technical asphalt midway through the long Terra Alta test which closed each loop. He masterfully managed his Ford Fiesta’s tired tyres to climb to second.
Kris Meeke won two stages in his Citroën C3 en route to third, 3.0sec off the lead. It could have been even better had the Briton not dropped vital seconds when he spun.
Tänak’s tenure at the front ended with a slow puncture and the Estonian was uncomfortable with his Fiesta’s handling this afternoon. He ended 3.3sec behind Meeke and 0.8sec ahead of a frustrated Østberg.
A hole allowed the cockpit in Østberg’s Fiesta to fill with dust and his temper reached boiling point when the heater jammed on in the final stage. Never outside the top two, he slipped to fifth.
Dani Sordo struggled for grip initially but the Spanish hero’s mood improved alongside the traction and he was 10.8sec off the lead in sixth, a place ahead of dispirited team-mate Thierry Neuville.
The Belgian’s title hopes were jolted when his choice of soft tyres were unsuited to the morning conditions and he grappled to find the ideal set-up when the stages were repeated.
Saturday features two identical loops of three tests, split by service, before ending with a crowd-pleasing stage along Salou seafront. It adds up to 121.86km of action.