There were 91 teams that started the 59th Ardeca Ypres Rally shortly after 3pm on the Grote Markt in Ypres. The opening evening with eight special stages is divided into two loops of four stages. After the first loop, Frenchman Stéphane Lefebvre holds the lead, but the margin over Niels Reynvoet is slim at just 5.5 seconds.

Lefebvre took three stage wins in a row, confirming that his off road incident in qualifying has not knocked his confidence. Even his place in starting order, tenth on the road which presents a potentially dirtier road, does not bother him. “I completed the first loop without taking any risks. We didn’t have a hot moment. I drove as cleanly as possible and the Hyundai just feels good. I’m having fun,” said Lefebvre.

The fourth stage was won by Niels Reynvoet in Zonnebeke, which was the final stage of the first loop. Reynvoet holds a strong second position, despite an even more disadvantageous starting position. He was 15th on the road after problems with the differential on the qualifying stage. “I don’t think our starting position is a disadvantage due to the dry weather. We drove at our own pace, as we did in previous rallies. It’s going well, although the soft (Michelin) S10s on the rear started to get a bit too warm,” said the Kroon Oil BRC Championship. He would be eager to keep his position because to have a better road position on Saturday.

Gilles Pyck is another pleasant surprise. He is third with the VW Polo GTi. “That exceeds my expectations. Yesterday I was disappointed with my time in Nieuwkerke, but the engineer has done wonders. The car feels much better. I could have been with Niels, but I went straight on, on SS 2,” the Poperinge local said.

Maxime Potty, who opened the road, follows in 4th place at 13.9 seconds back, and is sharing the place with fellow Toyota driver, Freddy Loix. Loix, the Ypres record holder, is quite satisfied with his position. “We are in the top 5 and barely 13 seconds off the lead. I am certainly satisfied with that considering our lack of competitive kilometres,” laughed Freddy.

Bjorn Syx is next, 0.9 seconds back. The Citroën driver has shown strong pace to sit in 6th place, but he is not satisfied with that. “No, my ambition is higher. I don’t feel the step up so well. We have to adjust the car to be harder and we also have problems with the intercom. It falls out with every impact. We have already used the spare intercom, but it has the same problem. There may be an electrical fault. It’s the little things that make the difference,” says Syx.

Cédric Cherain lies in 7th place, 17 seconds off the lead. “The set up needs to be refined a bit to make the connection with my head. I am not completely satisfied,” said Cherain. Dave Vanneste is 1.7 seconds further back. He has a good feeling in the Hyundai. “It is, indeed, going a lot better than in Wervik. It is particularly fast at the front, and yet everyone keeps pushing,” laughs Vanneste. “The differences are very small, but that also makes it fun.” 

“And mentally very challenging,” adds Bernd Casier. “You really have to pump yourself up before every corner to attack it as much as possible. I am also taking into account the information we have about the behaviour of the new Skoda. You see the slightest hesitation in the times. But, we are happy with our start.”

The top 10 is completed by Vincent Verschueren. Emile Brettmayer, Fred Miclotte and Bastien Rouard. Jos Verstappen is only 15th, behind Nicola Stampaert. The Dutchman had a particularly strong start and was sitting in second after the first  three stages. Unfortunately he suffered a puncture in Zonnebeke, which cost him 55.5 seconds. “I hit a large stone on the inside of a fast left along a hedge. We drove more than 8 km on the rim. The victory is gone, but the rally is still long,” said Verstappen.

His Dutch comrade Roger Hodenius lost 3.5 minutes due to a puncture after hitting an anti-cut post. “We just sped into the woods. Then your eyes have to get used to the light and you just don’t see that post. Very frustrating…”

In the Stellantis Cup, Pierre-Manuel Brasseur leads the standings with a 12.5 second lead over Maxim Decock. Jonas Dewilde, who is still looking for his confidence after the crash in Wervik, follows in fourth place. Then comes the Slovenian Mark Skulj, who is 0.4 seconds faster than Lander Depotter, who is discovering the Ypres roads.

Patrick Snijers had the best start among the GTs. He leads the standings ahead of Kris Princen, with a 3.8 second lead. Tim Van Parijs is third, despite damaged suspension and a flat tyre on the left rear after a small off in Zonnebeke. Melissa Debackere is fourth, ahead of Tuur Vanden Abeele. Glenn Janssens lost more than 2 minutes  due to a puncture, while Pieter-Jan Michiel Cracco decided not to continue after a puncture.

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