Kris Meeke is on course to repeat his Rally Internacional de Curitiba victory of last year after winning six of the seven special stages on the first leg of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge qualifier in Brazil on Friday.
The defending IRC champion holds a 32.7-second lead over fellow Briton Guy Wilks heading into Saturday's second leg after making the most of his knowledge of the high-speed gravel stages: Meeke is the only leading IRC regular who has previous experience of the event.
Meeke also benefited from choosing a hard compound tyre for the afternoon loop of stages when his rivals all opted for softer rubber in the mistaken belief it would rain. However, he received extensive praise from his co-driver Paul Nagle and his team boss Marc van Dalen following a faultless performance behind the wheel of his Peugeot UK-backed 207 Super 2000.
Further evidence of Meeke's dominance was provided by the fact he was the only leading driver to carry two spare tyres in his car all day, which meant he was saddled with an extra 40 kilograms of weight.
"Apart from a big hit going over a jump at some crossroads on the third stage everything else has been perfect today,” Meeke reflected. “I was a bit too cautious over the jump when the stage was repeated and lost a bit of time. Choosing the hard compound tyre was the right thing to do because it stayed dry and gave me more precision and stability. Now it's down to me managing my lead tomorrow but I've been in this position before so I know what I've got to do."
Wilks said his countryman's superior knowledge of the stages had been the difference between the pair although he admitted dropping approximately five seconds on the third stage of the morning when his car's spare intercom lead became detached and momentarily blocked his vision. He said his Skoda UK Motorsport-run Fabia S2000 had performed well all day, however.
"Kris got a jump on us this morning and that's down to his experience of the stages and nothing to do with anything I've done wrong or the car,” Wilks explained. “We should have gone for the harder tyre in the afternoon but I don't think it made a massive difference. Kris has now got to run first on the road tomorrow so we'll keep the pressure on and see what happens."
Jan Kopecky reached the second service halt at Curitiba's race circuit this evening in third overall in the first of two Skoda Motorsport-run Fabias. The Czech reported the rear of his car was sliding too much on the morning stages, which were slightly damp in places following overnight rain. He also bemoaned his lack of recent running on gravel for not being closer to Meeke and Wilks in the overall standings. Otherwise he said he was satisfied to be in contention for a podium finish tomorrow.
"It's been a long time since I've done a very fast gravel event like this so I have to be satisfied that I am with a chance of a podium tomorrow,” said Kopecky. “It took time to get used to the stages today because of the speed but the roads are going to be a bit more technical tomorrow and I think it will be easier to adapt to."