The leader of the WRC world rally championship Kalle Rovanperä, 4th, was ahead of his last opponent for the title on Thursday evening, the Briton Elfyn Evans, 8th at the end of the first day of the Central European rally dominated by Thierry Neuville.
On a drying Czech asphalt after the rain, the Belgian from Hyundai took the lead after SS2, the last special of the day of this unprecedented round, contested across three countries (Germany, Czech Republic and Austria), ahead of the Estonian Ott Tänak (M-Sport Ford).
Follows the Frenchman Sébastien Ogier (Toyota), third, himself closely followed by his teammate at Toyota, the Finnish Rovanperä, 4th, who regretted road conditions on Thursday evening that were drier than expected. Unlike Neuville and Tänak, the Nordique had opted for wet tires (slower) on the SS2 contested after dark.
“We were expecting a little rain (...) but as long as we are on a decent pace against Elfyn, it's perfect for me,” reassured the reigning world champion, who has a new match point after the rally in Chile at the end of September to retain its crown. In order to achieve this, he must hold off his teammate Elyn Evans, only 8th after a driving error on SS2.
To be titled on Sunday in Passau (Germany), Rovanperä must either finish ahead of his rival or not concede more than one point in the championship. So, if he wins (25 points) without even the five Power Stage bonus points, he will be titled, even if Evans is 2nd and recovers the Power Stage points at the finish (18 points 5). This first day was above all a warm-up for the crews who will compete in 16 other special stages between now and Sunday, competing in total over more than 300 kilometers of timed courses.