Thierry Neuville delivered a blistering opening night performance through Guanajuato’s narrow mining tunnels and slippery cobbled streets to lead Rally Guanajuato Mexico on Thursday night.
Tens of thousands of fans generated a carnival atmosphere in the picturesque town and Neuville rose to the occasion in his Hyundai i20 to set fastest time by a remarkable 1.9sec through the 2.53km speed test.
Drivers are normally split by mere tenths of a second through one of the WRC’s most spectacular occasions and the times were tight until Neuville took to the roads as the last of the headline World Rally Car starters.
“It’s a great start but obviously it’s going to be a difficult weekend,” said the Belgian, who is first in the start order over tomorrow’s dusty and gravelly tracks. “I will try to enjoy it. I’m happy to be here, it’s a great atmosphere.”
Ott Tänak topped the timesheets until Neuville’s storming run. The Estonian, driving a Toyota Yaris, finished a tenth of a second clear of Sébastien Ogier, the Frenchman almost swiping one of the many high kerbs near the start in his Ford Fiesta.
Toyota duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi and Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen completed the top six. The five drivers behind Neuville were split by just 1.3sec.
After overnighting in the host city of León, the action begins in earnest tomorrow in the mountains to the east. Drivers tackle two identical loops of three dirt road tests, supplemented by three asphalt sprint stages, which add up to 155.15km.