Report courtesy of Ypres Rally Media Team
The Ardeca Ypres Rally Belgium shakedown stage saw the crews tackle the 7.34km Nieuwkerke stage. In typical Ypres fashion the weather was changeable across the runs for the World Rally Championship crews.
Home town hero and defending winner, Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe took the fastest time at 3:44.4 in their Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID.
Kalle Rovenperä and Jonne Halttunen proved their pace as the WRC title leaders were just 0.6 seconds off the best time in their Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 HYBRID.
Fellow Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT drivers, Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin were third, with Oliver Solberg and Elliot Edmonson setting an identical time of 3:45.7 in their Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID.
They were ahead of Craig Breen and Paul Nagle. The Irish crew, who finished second last year were the leading Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID crew with a time of 3:46.0.
Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm (Toyota) rounded out the top six. Following were Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai), Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota), Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford) and Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (Ford) rounded out the top 10 and the Rally1 crews.
The crews were reporting the conditions were tricky in the first runs with rain sweeping through a part of the stage during the first runs. It ensured that the drivers, most of whom were running the hard compound Pirelli tyres, had to be careful.
However, the conditions improved across the runs and the only issue of note was a wrong turn at a junction for Katsuta after a wrong pace note on their first run. They were able to continue safely.
In WRC2, Stéphane Lefebvre/Andy Malfoy (Citroën C3 Rally2) led the way with a time of 4:03.7.
The time was 0.5 seconds better than that of Andreas Mikkelsen/Torsten Eriksen (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) and Vincent Verschueren/Filip Cuvelier (Volkswagen Polo GTi) a further 0.8 seconds back.