Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier has concluded the opening day of Wales Rally GB with a 13.5s lead over Kris Meeke.
Ogier won all three tests this morning to build a 12.9s cushion, but saw that cut to 7.7s in SS4, Hafren 2, when he was 5.2s slower than the Ulsterman.
Ogier, however, hit back in SS5 and SS6, taking two more stages wins, to re-established his advantage going into the overnight halt in Deeside.
“Like earlier I drove better on this stage [SS6] than the first one [SS4]. Kris is driving well though. It won't be easy to win this rally,” Ogier told the official WRC site. “I'm happy to have finished this day without trouble.”
Speaking back in service, Ogier added: “There aren't many rallies on the calendar where you want to be the first on the route, but it's usually an advantage in Wales. As such, things went really well for me and on the whole, I am very pleased with the day.
“It wasn't easy to judge the grip level in the morning because it was extremely slippery in places. Then I changed the set-up of the dampers slightly and after that the handling improved. I had a great feeling in the Polo, particularly on the third stage.
“I don't have a big lead over Kris, he is really fast. It promises to be a good battle over the next few days. I'm looking forward to it,” Ogier reiterated.
Meeke, who after topping the times in SS4, was second in SS5 and SS6, added: “He's so strong in here [Myherin] I knew we'd lose some time. Okay, he's not the target but it's nice to be in the fight.”
“Our goal [as a team] is to finish second in the manufacturers' championship so we are in the perfect position for the rest of the event,” Meeke continued. “We got off to a strong start because I had a very good feeling in the DS 3 WRC. When you feel confident in the car, it's much easier to set good times, even when conditions are as tricky as those we had today.”
Meanwhile, Andreas Mikkelsen has slipped back, and while he continues to hold third, the gap to Meeke's DS 3 WRC in P2 has increased from 3.9s post-SS3 to 17.9s at the end of SS6.
“I'm very happy with our start to Rally GB,” insisted the VW Motorsport II pilot, who of course had to skip the shakedown on Thursday. to go for some medical checks. “Without any testing or the experience from the shakedown the key was to quickly find a rhythm in these extremely tricky conditions. We did a good job, even if we were a bit too cautious here and there and lost time. I just don't have as much experience on today's stages as on those on Saturday and Sunday. That's why I am looking forward to the next two days and I am excited to see what we can achieve. In any case, third place isn't a bad start.”
Behind, Mads Ostberg remains fourth in his DS 3 WRC, 11.6s back, with Dani Sordo fifth for Hyundai and Ott Tanak sixth for M-Sport.
“We found the right rhythm on the very slippery roads,” Ostberg said.” Fourth position overall is very much in line with our target of holding onto second place in the manufacturers' championship. That's our number one priority and we mustn't lose sight of it. I'm pleased with our performances and I hope we can keep driving just as fast tomorrow.”
“We have had a reasonably satisfying start to this rally,” Sordo added. “Our target is obviously on the two Citroen drivers who have both been running well today but we are concentrated on our own rally. I have tried to keep the pressure on as much as possible.
“The first stage was a bit of a surprise because there wasn't as much grip as we expected. We made some adjustments over lunchtime and had a decent afternoon loop with top-five stage times. It's early days so let's see how things unfold on Saturday. I have enjoyed the stages today and we'll keep pushing.”
Hayden Paddon finished the day in seventh, forced to limp through the final test with his car in 'emergency safe mode'.
“It has been one of those days today,” Paddon conceded. “We had a tough morning loop because the stages, despite looking slippery in places, seemed to have quite a bit of grip. I struggled to trust it, though, and that showed from our times.
“After lunch, I was hoping to find improvements but we had a spin at the start of SS4 (Hafren 2) and it took me three attempts to get the car started again. We lost 15-20 seconds of time as a result, which was a shame because I actually felt more confident.
“We then experienced hydraulic problems in SS5 (Sweet Lamb 2), which meant we had to run the final stage (Myherin 2) without paddle shift, with no handbrake and no gear display, so it was a challenge to say the least. We stayed calm to get to the end and tomorrow is another day.”
Further back, Elfyn Evans is now eighth, after a puncture in SS4 cost him over a minute and three positions on the leaderboard.
"The puncture was a disappointment and not what we wanted from the day but it's just one of those things," Evans noted. "We didn't hit anything, but that's just how it goes sometimes. Now we just have to focus on having some fun and really enjoying what are some fantastic stages tomorrow.
“I prefer the character of tomorrow's stages and we'll be aiming to push on to see what we can do. As we saw today, the road position will make it difficult to reach for the top times but if we can get into a good rhythm and have some fun out there then we should be able to climb a few places.”
Of the rest, Ford privateer Lorenzo Bertelli and Citroen youngster Stephane Lefebvre round out the top ten, with Martin Prokop 11th and former F1 ace, Robert Kubica 12th.
Kubica lost time with a puncture in SS3 this morning and then had more problems on the repeat-run through Myherin in the afternoon, completing the test with his car very much worse for wear. It remains to be seen if he will be able to get back to service.
Kubica was not the only driver in the wars, with Jari-Matti Latvala, Thierry Neuville and Kevin Abbring all sidelined this morning.
Latvala was first to go, when he went off into a ditch in SS2. Neuville then lost a wheel in SS3, while Abbring stopped in that test as well, when a temperature warning light came on.
In WRC2, Eric Camilli leads in his Ford Fiesta R5, winning two of the three afternoon tests. Teemu Suninen holds second, 9.4s back, with Yuriy Protasov third – just 3.3s up on Eyvind Brynildsen.
Craig Breen, who led the class this morning, has slipped back to seventh, after hitting a rock picking up a puncture in SS4.
Wales Rally GB now continues on Saturday with nine stages on the bill and a total competitive distance of 142.32 km. SS7, the 11.34km Gartheiniog 1 test, is due to start at 07.29 hours local time. Full event itinerary available - HERE
2015 Wales Rally GB: Overall standings after Stage 6 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 1hr 16m 03.5s
2. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 13.5s
3. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +0m 31.4s
4. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 43.0s
5. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 18.7s
6. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 34.9s
7. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +2m 03.5s
8. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 21.6s
9. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 21.5s
10. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +3m 25.4s
11. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 43.3s
12. Robert Kubica
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +4m 33.2s
13. Eric Camilli
Ford Fiesta R5 +4m 56.0s
14. Teemu Suninen
Skoda Fabia S2000 +5m 05.4s
15. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta RRC +6m 00.2s
16. Eyvind Brynildsen
Skoda Fabia R5 +6m 03.5s
WRC2 standings after Stage 6 (Top 3):
1. Eric Camilli
Ford Fiesta R5 1h 20m 59.5s
2. Teemu Suninen
Skoda Fabia S2000 +0m 09.4s
3. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta RRC +1m 04.2s
SS2. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC Went off
SS3. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC Lost a wheel
SS3. Kevin Abbring
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Mechanical
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial