Volkswagen driver Jari-Matti Latvala gave himself a degree of comfort at the head of the Rallye de France-Alsace leaderboard after netting consecutive stage victories in the final two country stages of Friday’s opening leg.
Behind the wheel of his Polo R, the Finn extended his advantage over teammate Andreas Mikkelsen to 8.5sec after beating him by 4.3sec in the long SS5, before setting a crushing pace to go 4.0sec faster in less than 10km through the next test.
“The last one is my favourite stage, I could drive it tomorrow two more times,” said Latvala. “We made some changes in service at lunchtime and the car feels good.”
Mikkelsen could only laugh at the speed of his Polo R colleague in the final test. “His time is crazy, absolute madness. I was happy with my pace but Jari-Matti was insanely quick. It’s one of my best days on asphalt, I’ve never felt so comfortable on this surface before,” he said.
Robert Kubica punctured in SS5 to drop behind fellow Ford Fiesta RS driver Mikko Hirvonen, but the Pole finished third in the next test and is just 1.2sec away from regaining sixth.
Mads Østberg was a man of few words after dropping time in both tests with what he believed might be a transmission problem. “Something is not right and I couldn’t drive any faster,” said the Norwegian, who remains fifth in his Citroen DS3, but only 2.4sec ahead of Hirvonen.
Sébastien Ogier’s day became even worse, if that is possible, when a broken front left damper in his Polo R cost time in both stages.
Standings after Day 1:
2.Mikkelsen, VW, at 8.5s
3. Meeke, Citroen, at 22.7s
4. Sordo, Hyundai, at 51.5s
5.Østberg, Ford, at 57.6s