Oulton Park, 3.58km
Thursday evening’s curtain-raiser at Oulton Park motor racing circuit follows the start ceremony at Liverpool waterfront and is the only stage in England. It begins on asphalt, with a 360-degree donut at the pit lane entry after the opening corner. Midway through it turns onto a narrower section, which hosts a water splash, before ending on a more traditional rally road with tight bends and crests.

The Ulsterman, who was fastest in this morning’s shakedown, finished the 3.58km special stage with a 2.1sec advantage in his Toyota Yaris over Belgium’s Thierry Neuville, at the wheel of a Hyundai i20.

“That was tricky. It was dark, slippery and tricky and in those conditions on a race circuit it was like ice. There are no points for today, so let’s try to have a good weekend,” said Meeke.

After the late afternoon start ceremony in Liverpool, the curtain-raiser for this 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship almost provided a fairytale story for Petter Solberg.

The 2003 world champion and four-time GB winner, competing in his last rally before retirement, topped the leaderboard for much of the evening in his support category Volkswagen Polo R5 before being overhauled by Meeke and Neuville.

The 44-year-old Norwegian finished 3.3sec off the lead in third, 0.5sec clear of reigning world champion Sébastien Ogier’s Citroën C3. Andreas Mikkelsen, driving an i20, and Esapekka Lappi, in another C3, completed the top six.

It was a nightmare start for championship leader Ott Tänak who was down in 12th after yielding almost 9sec to team-mate Meeke.

“The engine stopped. I had no lights, they were pointing to the top of the trees and I completely missed the corner,” explained the Estonian.

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