Miko Marczyk topped qualifying for the European Rally Championship season-closing Canary Islands Rally, while points leader Alexey Lukyanuk was well off the pace and faces a low position in the starting order.
Saintéloc Junior Team driver Lukyanuk holds a 27-point advantage over Oliver Solberg in the primary ERC title race and needs only 13 points in Gran Canaria to guarantee his second championship title win.
But Lukyanuk’s rally got off to an unusual start when he was pulled over by police before the qualifying stage, the local authorities objecting to his weaving on the liaison section to warm up his tires.
Lukyanuk went only 34th fastest in qualifying, 14.937 seconds off Marczyk’s benchmark, meaning he’ll start way down the road order on Friday.
Craig Breen was second fastest aboard his Team MRF Hyundai i20 R5, 0.752s slower than Marczyk and a tenth of a second up on Spanish championship title contender José António Suárez.
Making his second ERC appearance of the year, Rally Hungary winner Andreas Mikkelsen finished fourth in qualifying, though complained he was struggling with understeer during his run.
Mikkelsen led Spanish championship duo Pepe López and 2017 Junior World Rally Championship champion Nil Solans, who are locked in a battle of their own for the Spanish Superchampionship title.
Solberg, back in a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 this week after switching to a works-supported Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo on the previous round in Hungary, was seventh fastest.
He begins the rally only a point behind Grégoire Munster in the ERC1 Junior title race, and neither contender was particularly happy with their respective qualifying runs.
Solberg was left complaining of a funny smell in the cockpit that he believed was “something with the exhaust,” while Munster was only 16th fastest as he struggled to stop his car from four-wheel drifting through the corners.
Rally Team Spain’s Efrén Llarena, recently crowned three-time French Tarmac champion Yoann Bonato and local expert Enrique Cruz completed the top 10.
Iván Ares was one of the few drivers facing early drama on Thursday, as he ripped the rear-left wheel from the hub of his i20 R5 due to side-on contact during free practice.
Despite the setback Ares, who picked up a podium finish earlier in the ERC season on Rally Fafe Montelongo, was still able to complete qualifying, going 13th fastest just behind M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux.
Qualifying stage results
1 Miko Marczyk/Szymon Gospodarczyk (Škoda) 1m54.432s
2 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +0.752s
3 José António Suárez/Alberto Iglesias (Škoda) +0.863s
4 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger (Škoda) +0.959s
5 José Maria López/Borja Rozada (Citroën) +1.104s
6 Nil Solans/Xavi Moreno (Škoda) +1.169s
7 Oliver Solberg/Aaron Johnston (Volkswagen) +1.523s
8 Efrén Llarena/Sara Fernandez (Citroën) +1.803s
9 Yoann Bonato/Benjamin Boulloud (Citroën) +1.993s
10 Enrique Cruz/Yeray Mujica (Ford) +2.109s