Ott Tänak finished seventh in the preliminary speed test Thursday evening in Belgium, in round nine of the 2022 World Rally Championship series.
Tänak's teammate at Hyundai and last year's winner, local hero Thierry Neuville, came first in the 7.34km test, ahead of series leader Kalle Rovanperä (Finland, Toyota), Welshman Elfyn Evans (Toyota) and Norwegian Oliver Solberg (Hyundai – in fact Evans and Solberg tied for third place).
Craig Breen (Ireland, Ford M-Sport) and another Finn, Esapekka Lappi (Toyota) were the other drivers ahead of Tänak in the test, though the Estonia had been as high as third place at one point.
Tänak was sixth in the event last season, but, buoyed by last month's victory in Finland, he and co-driver Martin Järveoja, celebrating his birthday on Thursday, hope to improve on that
Rally Belgium is unique in the calendar, Tänak noted, run primarily on asphalt around the historic city of Ypres /Ieper, but whose apparent simplicity gives the lie to a demanding circuit, particularly if the weather changes.
"We'll try to keep the momentum we got from Finland, even if it's a very different type of rally," Tänak said.
The race proper gets underway Friday and in traditional WRC style runs to Sunday. Eight speed trials with a total length of 97.02km are scheduled for Friday. Saturday's stages take up almost half of the total length of the rally (133.22km) ahead, with 51.34km to follow Sunday.
Also in action for Estonia in the second-tier WRC2 is Georg Linnamäe (Volkswagen) activities, the Estonian is assisted by British James Morgan.
Fans of 1990s Formula One may also be interested to know that Dutch driver Jos Verstappen, father of reigning Formula One driver Max, is also taking part for Citroen, in the WRC2 category. The Dutchman, who finished on the podium twice during his decade-long Formula One career and who has also raced twice in Le Mans, is making his rally debut at the age of 50.
The first test on Friday starts at 11.16 a.m. Estonian time.
Kalle Rovanperä leads the drivers' table by a country mile with 198 points, followed by Tänak on 104 points, Neuville just behind on 103 points, Evans on 94 points and Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta in fifth on 81 points.
Reigning and eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier is down in ninth place on 34 points, one point behind the other veteran Sebastien, Loeb, nine-time champion, who is not taking part in the full season.
By team, Toyota leads on 339 points, followed by Hyundai (251 points) and M-Sport (175).
Rally Belgium itinerary (Completed stages in italics, with stage winner, start times as per Estonian time.)
Thursday, August 18
Nieuwkerke test (7.34 km) - 17:01 Neuville.
Friday, August 19
SS1 Vleteren 1 (11.97 km) - 11.16
SS2 Westouter-Boeschepe 1 (19.60 km) - 12.08
SS3 Mesen-Middelhoek 1 (7.99 km) - 13.03
SS4 Langemark 1 (8.95 km) - 13.53
SS5 Vleteren 2 (11.97 km) - 16.16
SS6 Westouter-Boeschepe 2 (19.60 km) - 17.08
SS7 Mesen-Middelhoek 2 (7.99 km) - 18.03
SS8 Langemark 2 (8.95 km) - 18.53
Saturday, August 20
SS9 Reninge 1 (15.00 km) - 11.13
SS10 Dikkebus 1 (14.29 km) - 12.08
SS11 Wijtschate 1 (15.00 km) - 13.00
SS12 Hollebeke 1 (22.32 km) - 13.55
SS13 Reninge 2 (15.00 km) - 16.13
SS14 Dikkebus 2 (14.29 km) - 17.08
SS15 Wijtschate 2 (15.00 km) - 18.00
SS16 Hollebeke 2 (22.32 km) - 18.55
Sunday, August 21
SS17 Watou 1 (12.36 km) - 9.43
SS18 Kemmelberg 1 (13.31 km) - 10.38
SS19 Watou 2 (12.36 km) - 12.49
SS20 Kemmelberg 2 (13.31 km) - 14.18 (points test)
Readers with Estonian can follow ERR's sports portal's rally blog, updated in real time, here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte