The works Skoda Fabias of Juho Hanninen and Jan Kopecky hold a resounding one-two at the end of the opening evening's action in the Rally Russia, round six of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Finnish gravel expert Hanninen set four out of four fastest stage times, as the field made two runs through the forest stages of Yashino and Kutuzovo, near the host city of Vyborg on the Baltic coast.
His teammate, Czech asphalt ace Kopecky, passed an on-form Giandomenico Basso's Abarth Grande Punto for second place on SS2, with the Italian dropping to fourth after a puncture on SS3.
Heavy rain between the recce days and the start of the event caught the entire field off-guard, however. Watersplashes turned into lakes and there were a host of punctures caused by rocks being washed into the path of the frontrunners.
"The car felt like it had no grip at all when we first got out there, but then I realized it wasn't just me – it was everyone," Hanninen said. "So I drove carefully, kept the car in the middle of the road and tried to keep out of trouble. We won't make any changes to the car now, it's fine, there's just so much water on the stages it's unreal."
Basso's dramas put Guy Wilks up into third place overall in the all-new Mellors Elliott Motorsport-built Proton Satria Neo. With the car in fine fettle for the fast gravel stages, Wilks held his rivals from Abarth at bay with a string of strong times through the opening evening, using all his experience to keep out of trouble.
"It's going much better than we'd expected," Wilks said. "We changed the shocks in between the two loops, because the car was a bit too hard for the soft surface that's left after the rainfall. If it stays as it is we might have to go softer again, but to be third on merit in our second event is fantastic."
Anton Alen holds a soggy fifth place in the second Abarth, but has a few worries. After charging into a watersplash on SS1 and finding the cockpit full of water when the bow wave raced back through his air vents, he is struggling with high water temperature. A puncture on SS3 also damaged the right hand door and window.
Meanwhile defending Russian champion Alesandr Zheludov dropped to three cylinders in the opening two stages at the wheel of his Peugeot 207 before an ignition coil fault could be repaired at service and the Russian duly flew back up to sixth place.LEADERS:
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Juho Hanninen Skoda 28m28.5s
2. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 27.5s
3. Guy Wilks Proton + 46.5s
4. Giandomenico Basso Abarth +1m21.1s
5. Anton Alen Abarth +1m25.0s
6. Aleksandr Zheludov Peugeot +2m03.9s
7. Patrik Flodin Subaru +2m13.6s
8. Franz Wittmann Mitsubishi +2m45.0s
9. Boris Zimin Mitsubishi +3m52.7s
10. Kaspar Koiytla Lada +4m37.6s