Norwegian driver Andreas Mikkelsen clocked the fastest time of 2min 03.9sec through the opening 2.45km Marmaris Full Speed super special stage that got three days of action underway at Rally Turkey in front of a massive crowd of motor sport enthusiasts and visiting tourists on Thursday evening.
On a slippery cobbled stage that had been dampened by thunderstorms in the build up to the start, Irishman Craig Breen held second position at the overnight halt and Estonia’s Ott Tänak rounded off the top three.
Thierry Neuville agreed a three-year extension to his contract with Hyundai on the eve of the event and the Belgian followed up the fastest shakedown time with the equal fourth quickest time on SS1 with Polish WRC 2 driver Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
Defending multiple champion Sébastien Ogier survived a heavy landing and slipped outside the top 10 at the overnight halt.
Forty-five teams from the original 52-car entry list and competitors from 23 nations were flagged away from the ceremonial start at the Marmaris Meydan. The leading drivers had attended an autograph signing session in the time building up to Turkey’s return to the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time since 2010.
This was shortly before Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi was handed the honour of rekindling Turkey’s inclusion in the WRC by running first on the road for the opening timed spectator stage.
Shortly before the start and after the shakedown stage, Jari-Matti Latvala said: “ I have been in Rally Turkey for the first time in 2004, when it was in Kemer. That’s a long time ago. We did the event there again 10 years ago and then, in 2010, in Istanbul. That was completely different. It was fast and wider and softer.
“This rally reminds me of Kemer in 2008, but it is more technical and rougher. If we go back to 2009 to the Acropolis Rally, that was similar memories. That used to be rough like this. But that was fast and you had more room and wider roads. You could pick up the lines. Here it is narrow and technical. You can use the speed but you can also break the car.”
Leading local driver Murat Bostanci is entered in the WRC 2 category in a Ford Fiesta R5. He said: “I think Rally of Turkey has the most harsh stages of the whole World Rally Championship. Our goal is to reach the finish podium and wave the Turkish flag. My guess is if you manage to finish you will be probably in the top five (WRC 2), because it is a very challenging and demanding race.”
Turkish WRC 2 rival Yağiz Avi added: “Nearly 90% of the stages are different from previous Turkey rallies that were held in Marmaris. So we don’t have the obvious advantage. But we know the region and surface and it’s a very challenging race for the cars, tyres and drivers. It’s a difficult race to manage and decide where to push or where to protect the car.”
Competitors will tackle two loops of three gravel special stages on Friday, starting with a daunting run through the 38.10km of Çetibeli – arguably the most difficult special of the entire rally. After remote refuelling, action resumes with the 21.90km Ula special and the first pass through the perilous Çiçekli test.
A return to the service park at Asparan – a purpose-built area nestled in the mountains above Marmaris – precedes a repeat run through the three stages in the afternoon.
The majority of the day’s route is shrouded by tall trees and hanging dust could be an inherent problem, particularly if there is little wind in the morning. Championship leader Neuville’s disadvantage of running first on the road could, in fact, turn out to be a distinct advantage…..
2018 Rally Turkey – positions after SS1 (unofficial @21.09hrs):
1. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Anders Jaeger Synnevaag (NOR) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2min 03.9sec
2. Craig Breen (IRL)/Scott Martin (GBR) Citroën C3 WRC 2min 06.4sec
3. Ott Tänak (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Toyota Yaris WRC 2min 06.7sec
4. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2min 07.0sec
4. Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Macie Szczepaniek (POL) Ford Fiesta R5 (WRC 2) 2min 07.0sec
6. Jan Kopecký (CZE)/Pavel Dresler (CZE) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC 2) 2min 07.3sec
7. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)/Janne Ferm (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC 2min 07.4sec
8. Mads Østberg (NOR)/Torstein Eriksen (NOR) Citroën C3 WRC 2min 07.8sec
9. Jari-Matti Latvala(FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC 2min 07.9sec
10. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Daniel Barrit (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC 2min 08.2sec
11. Pontus Tidemand (SWE)/Jonas Andersson (SWE) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC 2) 2min 08.7sec
12. Teemu Suninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Ford Fiesta WRC 2min 09.2sec
14. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Ford Fiesta WRC 2min 11.4sec