Wet weather tyres were bolted on across the board as the World Rally Championship contenders left the service park in Passau, Germany for the opening stage of Day 2 in Czechia on the inaugural tri-nation Central European Rally. Wet asphalt covered with autumn leaves lay ahead on the first of three stages before the mid-day halt. Toyota’s two title contenders, Kalle Rovanpera and Elfyn Evans, both elected to take two spare tyres and incur the weight penalty in order to be sure to have maximum protection available. Those focused only on outright victory at the event – Thierry Neuville, Ott Tänak and Sébastien Ogier – all elected to run light with just one spare apiece. With the cleanest road conditions as the first man through the 13.66 km Vlachovo Brezí test, Rovanperä claimed victory on the stage as his rivals found the conditions deteriorating with each car passing through the stage. Disaster befell former champion Ogier who dropped 41.9 seconds to a puncture on his right front tyre very soon after leaving the start line – as did his Toyota team-mate Takamoto Katsuta. Despite starting sixth on the road, the second fastest time was set for Hyundai by a delighted Esapekka Lappi, who pipped Evans to finish closest behind the stage winner by a 1.6-second margin.
#69 Kalle Rovanperä (FIN) / Jonne Halttonen (FIN), Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid
"It’s difficult. The conditions are much trickier even on the first pass for us, all the gravel crews already take some mud on the road and a lot of water, much more than we expected, so it will be a big challenge (today).”
#11 Thierry Neuville (BEL) / Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL), Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid
"I was struggling to see the road at the moment. I opened all the windows as I could to get some air in but… it’s getting very, very dirty. It was a clean run through for us but it’s a bit of an appeal as well to the spectators because they removed some anti-cut (poles) and suddenly the road was full of mud and it was a big surprise so they should keep them in place because for us it’s really dangerous.”
#8 Ott Tänak (EST) / Martin Järveoja (EST), Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid
"No story at all. It’s just difficult to drive well here (fourth on the road) so the biggest challenge.”
#17 Sébastien Ogier (FRA) / Vincent Landais (FRA), Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid
"Unbelievable! What can I say? It’s already a lot of dirt, you just don’t say anything. I can’t wait (until) Michelin is back!”
#4 Esapekka Lappi (FIN) / Janne Ferm (FIN) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid
“I’m very, very, very, very, very much surprised! For sure as we saw it gets muddier and muddier so I was not expecting this kind of time but I take it for sure.”
#18 Takamoto Katsuta (JPN) / Aaron Johnston (IRL) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid
“No idea (what happened) to be honest. It’s just hard to trust the pace notes also because so much mud is coming. For sure gravel crews did a good job but still like a lot of things unexpected so not so easy. The next one is even more tricky so I need to focus on that.”
#21 Yohan Rossel (FRA) / Arnaud Dunand (FRA), Citroën C3
The French Citroën team caused an interruption on SS3. Yohan Rossel had injured his hand in an accident and received medical attention from the MIC crew. The stage was continued after the vehicle had been removed.