Britain’s Kris Meeke has powered into the lead of Rallye de France-Tour de Corse after the opening loop of two stages on the Mediterranean island. The Citroën driver heads reigning FIA World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier by 8.9 seconds, who in turn has a similar advantage over third-placed Thierry Neuville.
The route for this year’s event remains reminiscent of the Tour de Corse of old and takes in narrow and relentlessly twisty mountain roads across most of the island. From the northerly rally base in Bastia, the crews headed southwest to Ajaccio yesterday afternoon for the start ceremony and overnight halt, before contesting this morning’s two stages around the coastal capital city.
Meeke was immediately on the pace in the C3 WRC and took an early lead of nearly six seconds after the opening 31.20 kilometre stage, despite suffering a nose bleed on the start line. He went on to extend his advantage in the second test to arrive at the regroup in Porticcio with a useful lead. Ogier, who took a debut win on the island last year, lost time in the bumpy sections of the first stage but after some set-up changes was happy with his morning. Neuville suffered some understeer and struggled to find a comfortable rhythm, and the Belgian – who has been hotly tipped to win in Corsica – knows he can push the i20 WRC Coupe harder.
Ott Tänak is fourth, just 4.3 seconds adrift, but hasn’t been entirely happy with the balance of the Fiesta, and similarly Dani Sordo lacked some confidence; he is a further 5.2 seconds behind. Craig Breen has adopted a completely new driving style on asphalt, realising he has scope for improvement on this surface. Jari-Matti Latvala, on his 170th world rally, is seventh and also easing himself into the groove on the first Tarmac event of the season. Behind the Finn, Hayden Paddon has little experience on this surface and admits to needing to improve and he sits ahead of Stéphane Lefebvre in ninth. Juho Hänninen was the first victim of the day, and also no mid-leg service; the Finn hit a bridge in the first stage, damaging the suspension and a wheel and he was forced to retire. Elfyn Evans dropped down the leaderboard with hydraulic problems, losing over two minutes.
Tenth overall is held by Andreas Mikkelsen who also leads the FIA WRC 2 Championship in the Škoda Fabia R5. He won both of the morning stages and is 5.8 seconds ahead of Eric Camilli. The FIA WRC 3 Championship is being led by Raphaël Astier, who won this two-wheel drive series in Monte-Carlo and, within that category, Nils Solans is heading the Junior WRC Championship drivers.
The crews now head back out to the same two stages before returning to Bastia for final service this evening.
eom/FIA press release