Peugeot's Freddy Loix will start the Sata Rallye Azores with a two tenths of a second advantage after winning Thursday evening's superspecial, Grupo Marques, in the fourth round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Loix set the pace with a time of 1m45.0s, two tenths clear of fellow Peugeot driver Kris Meeke, who just defeated Nicolas Vouilloz's similar 207 by a tenth after an entertaining private side-by-side duel to the finish line.
"It's a perfect start," said Loix, who sustained light damage to the nose of his car after a hefty landing over the quarry stage's spectacular jump. "I just went flat out. It was not a big smash on landing, but it did feel like a good flight in the car."
Loix also damaged the tail of his Peugeot against a rope fence: "In my head that corner was flat out... sometimes small things can make a big difference in this sport!"
Meeke was content with second, but bemused by the chunk of right-front wing that was missing from his 207.
"I haven't a clue how that happened," he shrugged. "It was an okay stage, and it was a good jump. I had one problem, where I changed down to second [gear] for a tight corner and it stayed in third."
Vouilloz also bemoaned that same corner for his loss of time: "I made a big mistake at that one corner," he said. "I changed down and turned in and it just went straight on and bogged down."
Jan Kopecky led the Skoda charge in fourth with a time of 1m45.4s, a second clear of team-mate Juho Hanninen in fifth. Giandomenico Basso was sixth fastest in the first of the Abarth Grande Puntos, setting an identical time to local star Bruno Magalhaes (Peugeot). Anton Alen (Abarth) rounded out the leading contenders.
The real action starts on Friday, with nine gravel stages around the mid-Atlantic volcanic island of Sao Miguel, part of the Azores archipelago.
Pos Driver Car Time
1. Freddy Loix Peugeot 1m45.0
2. Kris Meeke Peugeot + 0.2s
3. Nicolas Vouilloz Peugeot + 0.3s
4. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 0.4s
5. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 1.4s
6. Giandomenico Basso Abarth + 1.6s
7. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot + 1.6s
8. Anton Alen Abarth + 2.6s
9. Ricardo Moura Mitsubishi + 3.3s
10. Fernando Peres Mitsubishi + 3.5s