THIERRY Neuville delivered a blistering performance through narrow mining tunnels and slippery cobbled streets to lead Rally Guanajuato Mexico on Thursday night.
PHOTO: Service for Neuville’s Hyundai i20 Coupe before tackling the opening stage of Rally Guanajuato Mexico (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull pic)
One of the season’s jewels in the crown took competitors through the streets of Guanajuato, including tunnels from when the town was the world’s leading silver-mining centre.
Tens of thousands of fans generated a carnival atmosphere in the heritage town and Neuville rose to the occasion in his Hyundai i20 to set fastest time by a remarkable 1.9sec on the 2.53km speed test.
Drivers are normally split by tenths of a second through one of the WRC’s most spectacular tests and the times were tight until Neuville blasted off as the last of the headline World Rally Car starters.
“It’s a great start but obviously it’s going to be a difficult weekend,” said the Belgian, who is first in the start order over Friday’s dusty and gravelly tracks.
“I will try to enjoy it. I’m happy to be here, it’s a great atmosphere.”
Ott Tänak topped the timesheets until Neuville’s storming run. The Estonian, driving a Toyota Yaris, finished 0.1 seconds clear of Sébastien Ogier, the Frenchman almost swiping one of the many high kerbs in his Ford Fiesta.
Toyota duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi and Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen completed the top six. The five drivers behind Neuville were split by just 1.3sec.
After overnighting in the host city of León, the action begins in earnest on Friday in the mountains to the east. Drivers tackle two identical loops of three gravel tests, supplemented by three asphalt sprint stages, which add to 155.15km.
Outright standings after Thursday (SS1):
1 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 2m06.7s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1.9s
3 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2.0s
4 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2.5s
5 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2.9s
6 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +3.2s
7 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Citroen C3 WRC) +3.5s
8 Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +4.5s
9 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4.6s
10 Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Citroen C3 WRC) +4.7s