LEÓN (México):  Last year’s Rally Guanajuato México winner Kris Meeke gave himself a major confidence boost by topping the times in Thursday morning’s 5.31km Shakedown stage at Llano Grande, near León.

Crews were permitted to carry out multiple passes through the test stage and the Ulsterman clocked the fastest time of 3min 41.0sec on his third run. WRC series leader Thierry Neuville was second, a mere four-tenths of a second behind the C3 WRC, and defending World Champion Sébastien Ogier rounded off the top three amongst the 11 World Rally Car drivers.

Elfyn Evans laid down the gauntlet on the first run with a time of 3min 45.9sec but that was soon surpassed by Ogier’s second run of 3min 44.8sec. But, a flying Kris Meeke demolished the opposition with a run of 3min 42.7sec to shave 2.1 seconds off the Frenchman’s temporary advantage.

A returning Sébastien Loeb was nearly 15 seconds off the pace on his first run but the nine-time WRC champion was 12 seconds quicker on his second run and slotted into eighth. He eventually finished in ninth.

Ogier’s third run came within a tenth of a second of Meeke’s quickest time, but the Ulsterman was not to be denied and he extended his advantage with a flying third run of 3min 41.0sec.

Teemu Suninen’s fourth run moved him into a virtual third with a time of 3min 43.4sec, only for the Finn to be overtaken soon afterwards by Neuville’s flying third pass of 3min 41.4sec after he had returned to service to change the settings.

Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Ott Tänäk and Jari-Matti Latvala eventually finished the session in fourth and fifth, but Esapekka Lappi suffered technical issues in the stage.

Pontus Tidemand topped the early times in WRC2 with a run of 3min 54.3sec, but Kalle Rovanperä went even faster later in the session with a 3min 51.9sec flyer.