On the WRC round closest to home, the Ulsterman guided his Toyota Yaris through the slippery 4.90km Gwydir gravel road test with the best time, more than a second clear of a gaggle of five drivers covered by three-tenths.

Meeke and home hero Elfyn Evans, returning after a three-rally absence with a back injury, tied for fastest time through the first pass on the muddy tracks. Meeke set the benchmark time on his second of three runs as grip improved slightly and was never headed.

“That was a wake-up call!” said Meeke. “My test here was 10 days ago in 22°C and we had problems with dust, so we knew it was going to be different conditions at the rally.

“It was nice to confirm the settings on shakedown this morning. If you’re feeling confident in these slippery, tricky conditions hopefully it bodes well for the weekend when we expect wet weather.”

Evans, driving a Ford Fiesta, and Citroën C3 team-mates Esapekka Lappi and Sébastien Ogier tied for the second quickest time. They were 1.1sec off Meeke’s benchmark, while Teemu Suninen rounded out the top five in his Fiesta, a further tenth behind.

Outside the leading group, Thierry Neuville was sixth, the Belgian a mere 1.4sec off Meeke’s pace. Championship leader Ott Tänak dropped 2.3sec to his team-mate’s leading time in eighth.

Hyundai hero Craig Breen was ninth fastest, despite spinning and stalling his i20 at a tight hairpin early in his first pass.

The leading times were:

1.Kris MEEKEToyota Yaris2min 54.1sec
=2.Esapekka LAPPICitroën C3+1.1sec
=2.Elfyn EVANSFord Fiesta+1.1sec
=2.Sébastien OGIERCitroën C3+1.1sec
5.Teemu SUNINENFord Fiesta+1.2sec
6.Thierry NEUVILLEHyundai i20+1.4sec
7.Jari-Matti LATVALAToyota Yaris+1.9sec
8.Ott TANAKToyota Yaris+2.3sec
9.Craig BREENHyundai i20+2.7sec
10.Andreas MIKKELSENHyundai i20+3.1sec

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