SEBASTIEN Ogier topped a close shakedown at PZM 73rd Rally Poland on Thursday morning.
The Frenchman went fastest on his fourth and final run in the 3.38km Lubiewo stage, close to the rally base in Mikolajki.
Just four-tenths of a second covered the leading four cars. Volkswagen Polo R teammate Andreas Mikkelsen was second, 0.1sec behind, with Hyundai i20 drivers Thierry Neuville and Hayden Paddon next up.
Ott Tänak twice topped the times in his Ford Fiesta RS before Mikkelsen and finally Ogier moved to the front over sandy but blisteringly-fast roads of the type which characterise this seventh WRC round.
“There are many sections where you are full throttle for a long time. It’s demanding for the engine and the times in the shakedown suggest the rally will be very close,” Ogier said.
“It’s another kind of driving compared to the previous round in Italy and you need even more commitment here. I knew I would need the shakedown because I skipped the test before the event, but after a few passes in shakedown I feel good in the car so I’m ready to start.”
Dani Sordo was fifth and Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top six, the Finn only 1.0sec behind teammate Ogier.
The start was delayed after fans refused to comply with organisers’ requests to move from dangerous viewing positions. It was briefly halted after a handful of cars for similar reasons, before continuing to its conclusion with no further hold-ups.
Ogier says he hopes the forecast eleventh-hour arrival of rain will transform his chances of victory in Rally Poland.
The weather in host town Mikolajki has been fine and dry for the pre-event reconnaissance and shakedown, but rain is expected on Friday.
As championship leader, Ogier will be first to tackle Friday and Saturday’s stages and expects to lose time as he sweeps away loose gravel to leave a cleaner racing line for those behind. In wet conditions however, the sweeping effect is less pronounced.
“First is definitely not the best position if it’s dry – that’s why I’m watching the sky and hoping for rain,” said Ogier, who is chasing a third successive Poland win.
“Okay, this rally has a fast character, and being first will cost us less than on a really technical event. If it stays dry you will not see stages where I lose eight-tenths per kilometre like in Sardinia, but sometimes it will be a couple of seconds a stage – and they are always difficult to catch up.
“If it’s a bit wet then I hope I can make some good times. The best would be some good rain during the night so it’s a damp surface and then not too bad weather during the day so spectators can enjoy the show without being too wet.
“I don’t hope to have any advantage, but I would hope to have less disadvantage. Either way, like always I’ll give my best and see what I can get.”