The Ulsterman, making his first appearance at the Marmaris-based event, was quickest through the rocky 4.70km Asparan speed test in his Toyota Yaris by a second from Andreas Mikkelsen (pictured below).
The Norwegian’s Hyundai i20 team-mate, Thierry Neuville, was a further 0.2sec behind after all the leading drivers completed three passes of the stage in temperatures just a fraction beneath 30°C.
“We knew that piece of road breaks up quite a lot and it was hellishly rough towards the end. We only did three passes as we wanted to try to preserve the car as much as possible. It’s tough and we know it’s going to be like that in the rally,” said Meeke.
“I hope dust isn’t a problem early in the morning and we can have a clean run and at least see the big rocks that are coming for us. It’s gong to be the toughest challenge of the year for the car and crews as well in these temperatures.”
Teemu Suninen opted for Michelin’s hard compound tyres on his Ford Fiesta and set the pace in the first pass. Meeke set the benchmark time in his second run, slashing more than four seconds from his previous time, and matched that in his last attempt.
Championship leader Ott Tänak was fourth in another Yaris, 1.4sec behind his team-mate, with Suninen’s original time good enough for fifth. World champion Sébastien Ogier rounded off the top six in a Citroën C3.
Esapekka Lappi punctured a rear tyre on his C3 in his first run while Pontus Tidemand returned to service to allow his M-Sport Ford team to check an intercom problem in his Fiesta.
The leading times were:
|1.||Kris Meeke||Toyota Yaris||3min 25.3sec|
|2.||Andreas Mikkelsen||Hyundai i20||+1.0sec|
|3.||Thierry Neuville||Hyundai i20||+1.2sec|
|4.||Ott Tänak||Toyota Yaris||+1.4sec|
|5.||Teemu Suninen||Ford Fiesta||+2.2sec|
|6.||Sébastien Ogier||Citroën C3||+3.0sec|
|7.||Jari-Matti Latvala||Toyota Yaris||+3.2sec|
|8.||Esapekka Lappi||Citroën C3||+3.5sec|
|9.||Dani Sordo||Hyundai i20||+4.0sec|
|10.||Pontus Tidemand||Ford Fiesta||+5.6sec|