Citroen driver Kris Meeke says he will not get carried away by his stunning shakedown time at the Tour de Corse on Thursday.
Meeke blitzed the opposition on the 3.38-mile shakedown stage, beating his nearest rival – Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen – by 2.2 seconds. Meeke’s team-mate Sebastien Loeb was 5.8s down on the sister C3 WRC.
Overnight rain left the test damp, with mud pulled out from the corners meaning the stage got slower with each pass – Meeke’s benchmark came on his first shot at the test.
But with conditions expected to dry through the event, Meeke expects the gaps to be much closer.
“In drier conditions, everybody can trust the grip a lot more,” he said.
“They were tricky, unique conditions [at shakedown], which maybe we won’t see in the rally.
“But I was happy with my rhythm and while the time isn’t so important [at shakedown] I was happy with the car.”
The Northern Irishman led last year’s Bastia-based event until an engine fault forced him out of the rally.
“Our feeling has been strong here,” said Meeke. “We can’t say we’re going to be as quick this year, but we’ll see.
“The important thing is to find your rhythm in this rally. If you don’t have it, you’re lost.”
Third quickest behind his Hyundai team-mate Mikkelsen was Thierry Neuville, last year’s Corsica winner.
The Belgian, who starts the first all-asphalt encounter of the WRC season four points adrift of series leader Sebastien Ogier, said his priority was to edge the M-Sport Ford driver to the finish.
“That’s our main focus: to be faster than Ogier,” he said. “If I can score more points than him, it’ll be a good result.
“But we know that the Citroen is very quick on Tarmac so we’ll probably have to take more risks.
“The rally won’t be over on Saturday night because on Sunday morning we have this very long 55-kilometer stage, which is a real challenge.
“There are lot of difficult corners on it. I’m really looking forward to it and I know that it could be a real game-changer.”
Neuville reiterated the lack of any knock-on effects from a testing crash which left his i20 Coupe WRC stranded in a river.
He added: “We talked about the accident last week. It looked a lot worse than it was.
“There was nothing wrong with the car in the shakedown. We know we’re competitive.”
Dani Sordo ensured there were three Hyundais in the top four, with Ogier fifth fastest just behind the Spaniard.