Intercontinental Rally Challenge returnee Freddy Loix has inched into an early lead over reigning champion Kris Meeke after the first loop of Ypres Rally stages
Drafted back into the IRC fold by Skoda for his home rally, former Peugeot driver Loix was a close second behind pacesetter Meeke (Peugeot UK) through the first two stages before a win on the Mesen-Sauvegarde stage gave him a 2.8-second lead overall.
Skoda duo Jan Kopecky and Juho Hanninen run third and fourth, with points leader Hanninen losing a little time to a puncture.
Rising Belgian star Thierry Neuville has made a strong start to his home rally in Kronos' second Peugeot, holding fifth at present, ahead of fellow locals Pieter Tsjoen and Bernd Casier.
But while Peugeot's young talent is impressing, its big name addition Stephane Sarrazin is out already. Brought in to support Meeke's title bid, Sarrazin went off the road on stage one and had to retire.
Andreas Mikkelsen is eighth as he continues to acclimatise to his S2000 Ford, and was another man to puncture a tyre this afternoon.
The MEM-run Proton squad has made a quiet start to its seasonal debut, with former World Rally Championship frontrunner Chris Atkinson currently back in 15th on his first IRC appearance and his team-mate Alister McRae 21st.
The rally continues with a further three stages this evening, before an epic itinerary of 13 stages over four loops on Saturday.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap 1. Freddy Loix Skoda 27m24.1s 2. Kris Meeke Peugeot + 2.8s 3. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 9.4s 4. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 18.3s 5. Thierry Neuville Peugeot + 25.6s 6. Pieter Tsjoen Peugeot + 35.0s 7. Bernd Casier Skoda + 54.8s 8. Andreas Mikkelsen Ford + 57.4s 9. Patrick Snijers Peugeot + 1m00.6s 10. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot + 1m07.6s
The fifth Intercontinental Rally Challenge was the best yet, and it was Skoda UK driver Andreas Mikkelsen who emerged as champion from a tense five-way shootout at the season finale. Matt Beer reviews the season