Last year’s championship runner-up blitzed the pair of night stages held in dry conditions to open up a 15.1s lead over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville.
It proved to be a challenging evening for Hyundai as all three of its entries suffered issues. Ott Tanak battled a throttle problem to end the loop in fourth (+22.8s), behind nine-time Monte Carlo winner Sebastien Ogier (+21.6s) in third.
Adrien Fourmaux impressed on his full-time Rally1 return with M-Sport to net fifth (+39.0s) ahead of Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta (+46.3s), M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster (+1m06.0s) and Hyundai’s new recruit Andreas Mikkelsen (+1m08.8s).
Evans lit up the timing screens in the opening stage of the season, even if the Welshman was unsure if he had made the most of the grip on the dry asphalt.
The Toyota driver’s benchmark time on the 21.01km Thoard-St Geniez was more than enough to win the test.
Hyundai’s new signing Tanak came the closest to toppling Evans after posting a time 5.2s adrift. The Estonian did reveal at the stage end that he was battling a throttle issue.
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1
“Nice stage, but we are far, far too soft. And we maybe have some issue with throttle, when we lift it was still full gas,” said Tanak.
Neuville was 3.1s slower than his new team-mate but was 1.5s faster than Ogier, who faced an increasingly dirty road surface from gravel being dragged onto the surface from cuts.
M-Sport’s Fourmaux delivered a strong effort to post the fifth quickest time, 16.2s adrift ahead of Toyota’s Katsuta and the second M-Sport Ford Puma driven by Munster.
Reigning WRC2 champion Mikkelsen rounded out the Rally1 runners some 32.9s shy of Evans. The Norwegian, making his top-flight WRC return for the first time since 2019, reported that he was battling with the engine mapping on is Hyundai i20 N.
Evans maintained his impressive start by winning stage two (Bayons-Breziers 25.19km) which was delayed. The test, held in front of a huge crowd, featured some damp patches.
Evans beat Neuville by 6.8s and the latter revealed he had a “small trouble” during his run. Tanak dropped to fourth overall after losing more time as a throttle issue on his Hyundai worsened.
“It’s got really bad now. I’m glad to be here. It is incredible what it [the car] is doing,” said Tanak.
Photo by: Toyota Racing
Sébastien Ogier, Vincent Landais, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
Ogier was able to climb to third as a result of Tanak’s problem as the Frenchman posted the third fastest time, 11.8s adrift of his pacesetting Toyota team-mate.
In WRC2, Skoda’s Pepe Lopez led the way while Sami Pajari was the best of the new Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 runners sitting fourth in class behind Citroen duo Nikolay Gryazin and Yohan Rossel.
The rally continues on Friday with six stages scheduled, comprising a total distance of 105.72km.