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Rovanperä sets Croatia Rally shakedown pace

In dry conditions and an ambient temperature of five degrees centigrade, the pair were only fifth quickest after the opening runs, improved on their second attempt and then clocked a best time of 1m52.5s on their third pass over the short 3.65-kilometre Okić stage in their Toyota GR Yaris Rally 1.

Ott Tänak and co-driver Martin Jarveoja had been fastest after the first runs in their Hyundai i20 N Rally 1. They also improved on each of their three attempts to finish third quickest behind team-mates Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe, who jumped up to second when they made a fourth pass. The Belgian pairing set a time just 0.1s shy of Rovanperä’s benchmark.

“The target is to fight for victory,” said Neuville. “We were fast here last year, however we know we are struggling with the car still on Tarmac. Let’s see what we can do this weekend.”

“I never drove on the slick tyre in the test – it was full wets,” said 2019 FIA World Rally Champion Tänak. “It’s quite important to get the feeling on the slick tyres today, but so far the feeling is good.”

Lappi and Janne Ferm were fourth fastest in their Toyota. “It felt good,” said Lappi. “Now it’s dry conditions and the rain is [coming] during the weekend. There will be a lot of variation, so it’s not going to be so simple. First we need to finish – that’s already a big target.”

Craig Breen and Paul Nagle were the best of the M-Sport Ford Puma Rally 1 drivers in fifth, ahead of team-mates Gus Greensmith and Jonas Andersson who rose to sixth on their fourth attempt at the stage. “It feels good,” said Breen. “We went on a hard tyre there, so it wasn’t easy to get everything up to temperature quickly. The car feels good so we’re looking forward to it.”

Greensmith’s last effort knocked Oliver Solberg and Elliott Edmondson in their Hyundai down to seventh, which became eighth when Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin (Toyota) also found time with one final run. “Beautiful roads, but very tricky,” was Solberg’s verdict of Croatia Rally’s scenic countryside. “I missed one junction and almost had a spin. I lost maybe two or three seconds on that [first] run.”

Pierre-Louis Loubet and Vincent Landais made a positive start to their debut in the Puma Rally 1 with the ninth fastest time. “It was fine,” said Loubet after his opening pass over the stage driving the same car Sébastien Loeb took to victory on Rally Monte-Carlo in January. “I enjoyed [it] a lot and the car is looking good, so we hope to do well this weekend. I am really happy to be back in this kind of car.”

Takamoto Katsuta and Aaron Johnston rounded out the top 10, with Adrien Fourmaux and Alexandre Coria 11th in their Puma. “I am confident,” said Katsuta. “It’s different to last year and the weather is going to be tricky, so I have to make no mistakes. It will be difficult but I will try to enjoy.”

Eric Camilli and Thibault de la Haye jumped to the top of the WRC2 times on their fourth run in Sainteloc Junior Team’s Citroën C3 with a mark of 2m00.4s.

The Ceremonial Start is up next at 17:30 local time. Leg one begins with the 19.20-kilometre Mali Lipovec stage from 08:33 tomorrow (Friday).

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