Thousands of enthusiastic fans packed Tir Prince Raceway in County Conwy as the FIA World Rally Championship stars and cars lit up the night skies with a spectacular start to the Dayinsure Wales Rally GB.
The eagerly-anticipated event – the penultimate round on the WRC calendar – burst into life with the Visit Conwy Tir Prince speed test, as a series of jumps and flames under the floodlights dazzled the throngs of appreciative spectators.
“Tir Prince Raceway provided a show-stopping backdrop for the curtain-raiser to what promises to be a truly epic Dayinsure Wales Rally GB,” said event Managing Director, Ben Taylor.
“It was wonderful to see so many people flock to what is a new venue for our round of the World Rally Championship, and the drivers and co-drivers unquestionably made it worth their while with popular autograph and selfie sessions and a brilliant display of sideways slides – and there will be plenty more where that came from over the coming days!”
Frenchman Sébastien Ogier – who is gunning for a record-breaking fifth victory in Wales and with it a fifth WRC Drivers’ crown – was fastest on what looks likely to be a historic weekend for his British employer M-Sport, with his team-mate and home hero Elfyn Evans just over a second behind in fifth.
The Welshman – who hails from just down the road in Dolgellau – has high hopes of challenging for glory this weekend, after setting the pace in front of huge crowds on the morning’s Shakedown through Clocaenog forest.
Evans’ DMACK tyres have the potential to give him an edge on an event that no Brit has won since the late Richard Burns 17 years ago.
“I’m trying not to feel any pressure,” the 28-year-old said. “This is my home rally and I want to enjoy it.
“We will focus on ourselves and do the best possible job we can. This is a long, tough rally and we need to get through it stage-by-stage.
“For sure, there will be sections on stages which are very, very slippery.
“We might see some of the stages drying out on the long loop on Saturday… who knows what they’ll look like. We’re not taking anything for granted, but we’re here to aim for the win.”
The WRC teams have now returned to their overnight halt at the Deeside Rally Village, ahead of an early start Friday for six classic special stages in mid-Wales.
2017 Dayinsure Wales Rally GB after 1 of 23 Special Stages
1. Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia – Ford Fiesta WRC 1m 09.7s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila – Toyota Yaris WRC +0.4s
3. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul – Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +0.5s
4. Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja – Ford Fiesta WRC +0.6s
5. Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt – Ford Fiesta WRC +1.1s
= Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger – Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1.1s
7. Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm – Toyota Yaris WRC +1.2s
= Dani Sordo/Marc Martí – Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1.2s
9. Craig Breen/Scott Martin – Citroën C3 WRC +1.3s
= Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström – Toyota Yaris WRC +1.3s
Friday 27 October
07:15 Depart – Deeside Rally Village
10:20 Myherin 1 (Stage 2)
11:00 Sweet Lamb 1 (Stage 3)
11:15 Hafren 1 (Stage 4)
12:53 Regroup and Technical Zone – Newtown (30 mins)
14:31 Myherin 2 (Stage 5)
15:11 Sweet Lamb 2 (Stage 6)
15:26 Hafren 2 (Stage 7)
19:01 Chester Eastgate Time Control
20:01 Service – Deeside Rally Village (45 mins)
Saturday 28 October
06:10 Service – Deeside Rally Village (15 mins)
07:55 Aberhirnant 1 (Stage 8)
08:47 Dyfnant 1 (Stage 9)
09:59 Gartheiniog 1 (Stage 10)
10:28 Dyfi 1 (Stage 11)
11:13 Corris Regroup and Technical Zone
12:08 Gartheiniog 2 (Stage 12)
12:37 Dyfi 2 (Stage 13)
15:48 Cholmondeley Castle (Stage 14)
16:55 Service – Deeside Rally Village (30 mins)
18:55 Aberhirnant 2 (Stage 15)
19:47 Dyfnant 2 (Stage 16)
22:26 Service – Deeside Rally Village (45 mins)
Sunday 29 October**
07:00 Service – Deeside Rally Village (15 mins)
08:34 Alwen 1 (Stage 17)
09:08 Brenig 1 (Stage 18)
10:06 Gwydir (Stage 19)
11:09 Alwen 2 (Stage 20)
12:18 Brenig 2 Power Stage (Stage 21)
13:35 Ceremonial Finish – Mostyn Street, Llandudno
* All times are for the first car and subject to change
** Clocks go back by one hour to GMT overnight