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ELFYN Evans grabbed the early lead of Orlen 74th Rally Poland after winning Thursday night’s opening speed test at Mikolajki Arena.

The Welshman beat Dani Sordo in their head-to-head battle around the spectacular 2.50km test on the edge of the rally service park to snatch the lead by 0.8sec in his Ford Fiesta.

“The weather is looking quite unsettled but it’s the same for everyone, so we’ll do what we can. If the weather is extreme it might not suit our tyres, but otherwise we should be OK,” he said.

A thunderstorm forced the cancellation of the afternoon start ceremony in Mikolajki. However, the gravel roads in the stage were not as bad as feared as the surface dried.

WRC title contenders Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier duelled in a thrilling headline heat in front of the large crowd. Neuville came out on top in his Hyundai i20 by a tenth of a second to claim second place, with Ogier third in his Fiesta.

Jari-Matti Latvala edged Ott Tänak by a similar margin in their heat, Latvala’s Toyota Yaris claiming fourth ahead of the Estonian’s Fiesta. Hayden Paddon, Stéphane Lefebvre and Andreas Mikkelsen were tied in fifth.

Mikkelsen and Lefebvre reported understeer in their Citroën C3s, although both won their heats. Mikkelsen defeated Mads Østberg and Lefebvre saw off World Rally Car debutant Teemu Suninen.

Esapekka Lappi beat teammate Juho Hänninen, but Lappi was worried about a possible engine problem in his Toyota Yaris.

“Something is wrong with the engine. I don’t know what, but the smell is bad,” said the Finn, who was seventh.

Suninen was disappointed with his debut.

“Not good, difficult to find anything good to say. Mistakes, taking it too carefully and not good on the throttle. I need to improve tomorrow,” the Fiesta pilot said.

The rally resumes early on Friday when drivers tackle two identical loops of four speed tests east of Mikolajki. A 30-minute service splits the loops, with a second pass at

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