The first full day of action would see the crews tackle some really tricky sectors in the stages today. There were a couple of complex matters as well for the first day with no service and also only one of the five stages run twice, with the three other stages only being run one time, plus the final stage of the day almost 30km’s.
Into SS2 Loutraki 1 – 10.37 km and Thierry was fastest from Seb and Ott. These three were now the top three, with the Belgian leading the way from Ott and Seb. Kalle held fourth overall at this point, just 5.1 from the lead. Sadly, for Pierre-Louis he was out for the day after suffering a technical problem on the way to the stage. In WRC2 Sami was fastest from Adrien and Yohan. These three were the top three as well, with Adrien leading the way from Yohan and Sami.
The second stage of the day then, SS3 Pissia – 16.43 km, with the tyre fitting zone to follow and the conditions in the stage with some damp sections suited the Finn being first into the stage and he was fastest from Thierry and Seb. The Finns time saw him jump two positions up the leaderboard and into second overall, just two seconds behind Thierry. In WRC2, Adrien was quickest again from Yohan by a huge 8.1 seconds, whilst Kajetan made his way into third overall. Erstwhile third placed Sami dropped two places as well.
After the tyre fitting zone back to SS4 Loutraki 2 – 10.37 km and Seb was fastest from Thierry and EP. The final car to come through was Jourdan in his Puma. Sadly, the WRC2 runners would not get the opportunity to have a second run through the stage with some idiots standing in the ruts on the inside of a corner. The remaining runners were given a notional time.
Next up was SS5 Livadia – 21.03 km and Ott was fastest from Thierry and Seb. The Belgian continued to hold the lead and had actually increased the gap to Seb by five seconds. Sadly, Elfyn dropped two places to sixth overall with Esapekka and Dani gaining a place ahead of the Welshman. In WRC2 Lauri was fastest from Sami and Marco, whilst Adrien remained in the lead from Yohan and Sami who had just moved into third place in the category.
The final stage then of the day, SS6 Elatia – 28.32 km and a great run from Ott and Seb who were fastest from Elfyn. The Welshman regained two positions and was back into fourth overall. Dani suffered a small, short stop and lost a lot of time. In WRC2 Andreas was fastest from Marco and Robert. Sadly, Adrien fell from the lead to tenth in the category after having to stop to change a wheel.
Let’s take a look at the top positions and hear from the drivers.
Classification after Day One
|1||T. Neuville||M. Wydaeghe||Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid||55:10.4|
|2||S. Ogier||V. Landais||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid||+2.8|
|3||K. Rovanperä||J. Halttunen||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid||+25.5|
|4||E. Evans||S. Martin||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid||+31.0|
|5||E. Lappi||J. Ferm||Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid||+32.1|
|6||T. Katsuta||A. Johnston||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid||+41.7|
|7||D. Sordo||C. Carrera||Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid||+48.6|
“That last stage was stressful; not only was it a challenging one at 28km, but from the very start I could hear a noise coming from the rear differential. I was having a problem with the transmission on previous stages but just on the start line until SS6 Elatia. I couldn’t go full throttle for the first three gears, which was costing me a lot of time. I was a bit worried we wouldn’t make it to the end; thankfully we did. The difficult part now for us is to make our tyre choice tomorrow – we have no opportunity to react in the morning, so we need to make that decision tonight. I’m convinced we made the right call today to be fastest; whether it was a good choice to help us win the rally, we will only know at the end of the weekend.”
“When we came to the stop line on SS4, we saw the low water pressure alarm and then found the leak. I think it’s both sides of the radiator which got damaged; we managed to fix the front, but the rear we couldn’t. We have been adding water at the stage finishes as well as some other locations – we saw a tap outside a restaurant, so we got some from there as well! Regardless, today’s main struggle was not this problem with the car, but more the conditions on the stages. I never felt really satisfied. We tried something new, but I think we need to go back to my normal set-up. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow; today we tried to maximise the grip, but we compromised elsewhere, and I didn’t feel comfortable. I’d like to take a more cautious approach that allows me to push.”
“It was so difficult to know where the muddy places are, the stages have changed a lot between the recce and now. I stalled the engine under braking on the final stage, however it was not an amazing day for me overall. Of course, the conditions were tricky, but I did not have good pace. In normal conditions the road cleaning effect is quite high, which might have benefitted us, but it isn’t noticeable this year. We don’t know what tomorrow will be like, but if the stages are anything like what we saw in the recce, it could be really bad. It will be a challenging day if the surface hasn’t dried out quickly.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“It was quite a big challenge today. The stages were drying up much more than we expected, so there was actually quite a lot of cleaning for us to do. When it was a bit damp and muddy, we could do some good times, like in SS3 this morning. Then this afternoon we were suffering a bit more with the road position with a lot of loose gravel, and I felt I left a bit of time on the last one. But at least the starting place is now better for tomorrow although there could still be some surprises with the conditions after so much rain.”
“It’s been a good start to the rally for us. I was happy to be back in the car at racing speed, although I maybe had to drive a couple of kilometres first before I could be at 100 per cent. Some sections were challenging but luckily the sun was there and helped the roads to dry very quickly. It’s good to be so close to the lead, which is where we want to be, in the fight for the win. But we need to carry on like this tomorrow, which is the biggest part of the rally with long stages and rough conditions.”
“The conditions were pretty tough at points today, but they were probably a lot better overall than what we had expected. The sun came out and the mud dried up quite a lot during the afternoon. We were probably a bit too much on the cautious side for most of the day, but it was a bit better on that last one and we managed to come back up the leaderboard. It was quite difficult to strike the balance, and some of the stages were cleaning quite a bit. There’s still a lot of driving left to do this weekend in some difficult conditions, so we need to use our head.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
“The day was not too bad, just the one tyre fitting zone, we had some changes. After that the water pump didn’t start. We had quite a busy time there, somehow the mechanics managed to solve it.”
The second full day of this rally will see the crews face six stages and 141km’s. Can Thierry hold onto his lead, or will the Toyota drivers be able to pass the Belgian?