Kris Meeke, the Toyota Gazoo Racing Yaris World Rally Car driver edged world champion Sébastien Ogier by a tenth of a second in the 3.35km Gap test. New signings were to the fore as Ogier’s fellow Citroën C3 newcomer, Esapekka Lappi, completed the top three a further 0.4sec behind.
“My objective was just to get back into it. I’ve only done two days test for this rally and that was back in mid-December,” said Meeke, driving his first rally since being axed by Citroën last May,
“I even forgot to press the right buttons this morning on the startline. I missed the launch and the first run felt a bit odd because you can test as much as you want, but until you get into the rally environment it all feels a bit different. The second and third passes felt comfortable.”
Ogier was quickest through the opening run on dry asphalt just outside the rally’s start town. He remained at the top until Meeke moved ahead in the third of his five runs.
It was a good morning for Toyota as Ott Tänak and Jari-Matti Latvala were fourth and fifth, with Thierry Neuville completing the top six in a Hyundai i20.
The returning Sébastien Loeb was 10th and admitted his preparations had been far from ideal, arriving for his Hyundai debut just days after finishing third in the Dakar Rally.
“I have no idea what I can do,” he said. “I know that I arrive here in a complicated situation to start a rally with a new car and only one-and-a-half day’s testing so it will be complicated.
“I cannot say I’m fully confident because with two passes on the recce and a long rally like this, the notes are not perfect.”