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SÉBASTIEN Ogier put down a marker to his WRC title rivals with a blistering drive to win RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España’s opening speed test in Barcelona on Thursday night.

PHOTO: Driving a Ford Fiesta, video star Ken Block made a return to the WRC in typically spectacular style (Jaanus Ree/WRC Media pic)

A clever tyre strategy enabled the Frenchman to win the 3.20km street test in the centre of the city by 3.7sec in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta.

FIA World Rally Championship leader Thierry Neuville bounced back from a rollover in the morning’s shakedown to finish second in his Hyundai i20. Ott Tänak, the outsider in the thrilling title battle, was a further 0.5sec back in a Toyota Yaris.

Ogier opted for Michelin’s medium-compound tyres which offered maximum grip on the asphalt.

“We had a good strategy with the tyres but let’s see for tomorrow. We have a little less tyres than the others but I think we can manage. It won’t be easy for the rest of the weekend,” he said.

Neuville chose a mix of hard and medium rubber and admitted he made a mistake in not following Ogier’s tactics. The Belgian thanked the mechanics who repaired his car after the morning’s crash.

Hyundai teammate Andreas Mikkelsen was 1.4sec behind Tänak in fourth with Elfyn Evans fifth in a Fiesta and WRC 2 leader Eric Camilli rounding off the top six in Volkswagen’s brand-new Polo R5.

Nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb, driving the last of his three-rally 2018 schedule, conceded almost 16sec after stalling his Citroën C3 at a hairpin bend early in the stage.

The action switches to the hills west of rally base Salou on Friday for six primarily gravel tests covering 144.88km.

Standings after Thursday:

1 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 3m35.3s
2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +3.7s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4.2s
4 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +5.6s
5 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +6.0s
6 Eric Camilli/Benjamin Veillas (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5) +7.4s
7 Dani Sordo/Carlos Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +7.5s
8 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Skoda Fabia R5) +8.6s
9 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +8.7s
10 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +9.0s

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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