SÉBASTIEN Ogier blitzed his rivals to win the opening speed test of Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada in Barcelona on Thursday night.
Last of the top seeds to start Special Stage 1, the Volkswagen driver headed Thierry Neuville by 2.1sec through the 3.20km asphalt test with Polo R team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen a further 0.8sec behind.
“It’s good to start like this but at the last round in Corsica we started in the lead but the rest of the weekend wasn’t good. The rally really starts tomorrow but it was nice to be here in front of a huge crowd. It was a clean drive and I’m going to go for it tomorrow,” Ogier said.
Neuville’s time was surprising as the Belgian had no handbrake to help guide his Hyundai i20 around the hairpin bends on the city street course.
Mikkelsen was four-tenths of a second ahead of Kris Meeke’s DS 3, with Robert Kubica and Mads Østberg completing the top six.
After overnighting in Salou, drivers face eight predominantly gravel stages Friday covering 128.60km.
The Spanish event is the penultimate round of the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship, in which Volkswagen clinched the driver, co-driver and Manufacturer titles at Coates Hire Rally Australia last month.
Earlier on Thursday, New Zealander Hayden Paddon celebrated a new three-year with Hyundai by setting fastest time in the Shakedown.
The Kiwi powered his i20 World Rally Car through the mixed surface 2.94km Salou stage two-tenths of a second quicker than Ogier, with Robert Kubica a further 0.1 back in a Ford Fiesta RS.
“Although the stage wasn’t representative of the rally it was a good chance to check the car was working and, as we’re back on loose surfaces, to make sure the set-up from Australia is working well,” said Paddon.
“We’ll push hard on the gravel tomorrow. We have a good road position so we need to ensure we make the most of that and try to be near the front.
“When we get to the asphalt we’ll focus on learning as much as we can. We’ll struggle to be as competitive there but we need to start somewhere.”
Also completing Shakedown were Australian crew Brendan Reeves and Rhianon Gelsomino. They set the second-fastest time in the Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy field, driving a one-litre, three-cylinder Fiesta.