While his Ford team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala starts tomorrow’s second leg of the Wales Rally GB leading five-times world champ Sebastien Loeb by 11.4secs, Aberdeen’s Barry Clark survived an early spin to finish the day just 1min 39.5s off the lead.
“Conditions were treacherously icy on the first run through the three opening stages,” the 26-year-old Scot, who finished the day 13th, said as his mechanics worked feverishly on his Stobart Ford Focus WRC, “but I think we’ve made a good start.
“Having said that, it could all have gone pear shape right at the beginning when I spun on the opening stage. We were very lucky to get away, but after that the rest of the stages weren’t too bad.
“Sure the rest of the stages were a treacherous mixture of ice and very wet mud, and it was easy to get caught out on the braking, but we’re still there fighting. Hopefully we’ll manage to ease our way into the top 10 tomorrow.”
Latvala meanwhile inherited the lead at the end of Stage 6, the second run through Myherin, when the Citroen of Junior world rally champ Sebastien Ogier suffered electrical problems dropping him from first to eighth place, 37s behind the leading Ford.
The Finn delivered a mesmerising drive through the sodden Welsh forest stage to catapult himself from fourth to first.
“It was a good stage, but these are difficult conditions,” Latvala explained afterwards. “At the start I had a problem with the windscreen because the blower broke, but luckily we have another element in the window.
“Then it was raining so heavily that the wipers could not go fast enough. Unbelievable conditions and to be honest I’m just glad to have to to the end.” But the day wasn’t so good for his team-mate and last year’s winner Mikko Hirvonen.
The Scandinavian ace, who began the three-day event as favourite, starts today 32nd, nearly five minutes behind Latvala in 32nd place he rolled his Ford in Stage 5. He then lost more time as his battered and muddy car limped through Myherin.
“It’s a big job now, but I have to keep on trying,” Hirvonen sighed. “The engine is not pulling at all like it should, so I’m surprised we didn’t lose more. I think the air intake or something is just full of mud. There’s no power, but we’ll get to service, no problem.”
MotoGP world champ Valentino Rossi, driving an identical car to Clark, is three minutes behind the front-runners and starts tomorrow 26th overall.