Ott Tänak finished third in the initial shake-down test run at the inaugural Central European Rally, the penultimate round of the 2023 season.
The Estonian, in the M-Sport Ford Puma, was one tenth of a second behind second-placer Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota), with the Finn looking to wrap up the 2023 title at this race, with one race to go.
Test stage winner was Belgian Thierry Neuville, whom Tänak will be rejoining at Hyundai next season. Neuville was one-and-a-half seconds ahead of Tänak in over the 3.62km route near Passau, Bavaria, on Wednesday.
The Central European Rally replaces Rally Catalunya in this year's calendar and represents the first time a WRC event has been held across three different countries, namely Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.
It is also the first race on asphalt since April.
Ott Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja go into the race in fourth place in the table, a more than creditable position given M-Sport is considerably less well-funded than Toyota and Hyundai. Buoyed by victory at the last round in Chile early on this month, the pair will be looking to close out their season with M-Sport on a high, before joining Hyundai – a team they raced for 2020-2022 – for 2024.
In addition to starting a day earlier than most WRC races' initial test runs, the stage was delayed after the first four drivers had been out. It later transpired that first responders on site for the event had had to go on a call-out unrelated to the rally. Events resumed after a 20-minute pause.
Elfyn Evans (Wales), the only driver still in with a mathematical chance of overtaking Rovanperä in the table, was fourth in the Toyota Yaris, Esapekka Lappi (Finland) fifth and eight-time winner Sebastien Ogier sixth for Toyota.
In the second-tier WRC2 event, Estonian Georg Linnamäe placed 13th in the Hyundai i20, in a time of 2.15.4. By the time he got to the start position, darkness had already fallen.
Stage one proper of the Central European Rally starts today, Thursday at 3.05 p.m. Estonian time, with a 2.55km route close to the Czech capital, Prague. Day two ends with a 8.92km stage near Klatovy, also in the Czech Republic, starting just after 7 p.m.
As usual with WRC events, the race continues Friday to Sunday.
The full list of stages is below.
Central European Rally itinerary (Estonian time, in 24-hour clock, completed stages in italics, with winner's name):
Wednesday, October 25
Start time: 17.01 – Test stage (3.62 km) NEUVILLE
Thursday, October 26
15.05 - SS1 Velka Chucle (2.55 km)
19.05 - SS2 Klatovy (8.92 km)
Friday, October 27
10.50 - SS3 Vlachovo Brezi 1 (13.66 km)
11.42 - SS4 Zvotoky 1 (23.81 km)
13.15 SS5 - Šumavske Hoštice 1 (23.43 km)
15.32 SS6 - Vlachovo Brezi 2 (13.66 km)
16.24 SS7 - Zvotoky 2 (23.81 km)
17.57 - SS8 Šumavske Hoštice 2 (23.43 km)
Saturday, October 28
9.15 - SS9 Schärdinger Innviertel 1 (15.72 km)
11.01 - SS10 Mühltal 1 (27.15 km)
12.05 - SS11 Knaus Tabbert Bayerischer Wald 1 (11.88 km)
16.15 SS12 Schärdinger Innviertel 2 (15.72 km)
18.01 SS13 Mühltal 2 (27.15 km)
19.05 SS14 Knaus Tabbert Bayerischer Wald 2 (11.88 km)
Sunday, October 29
9.15 - SS15 BöhmerWald 1 (17.25 km)
10.35 - SS16 Passauer Land 1 (16.37 km)
11.33 - SS17 Böhmerwald 2 (17,25 km)
13.15 - SS18 punktikatse/Passauer Land 2 (16.37 km)
The final race of the 2023 season is in Japan next month.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Andrew Whyte