Thousands of fans lined the perimeter roads around Estadio Gran Canaria near to the Las Palmas service park as the opening asphalt round of the 2022 FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) kicked-off in style.
Tight bends, cold tyres and looming concrete bollards kept the drivers on their toes as Wagner edged fellow Škoda Fabia Rally2 driver Alberto Battistolli by 0.7sec.
Wagner claimed his maiden ERC podium last time out at the Azores Rallye, but, although asphalt is his preferred surface, the Austrian remained cool on his victory hopes.
“We will give our best, but there is no pressure on us at all,” mused Wagner. “Our goal is to finish in the top-five only," he added.
Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 pilot Nil Solans ended just 0.2sec down on Battistolli to complete the early top three. He was 0.6sec clear of Team MRF Tyres driver Simone Campedelli, who was driving another Fabia.
The competition was so close that Fabia drivers Simone Tempestini and Norbert Herczig along with Citroën C3 Rally2 man Yoann Bonato all set identical times. They shared fifth after just 1.5km of action.
Grzegorz Grzyb was 1.8sec off the pace and held eighth overnight in another Fabia. His efforts were matched by Miklós Csomós, while Frenchman Emmanuel Guigou set an impressive time to put his rear-wheel drive Alpine A110 in tenth.
Azores Rallye winner Efrén Llarena was 11th, a mere 2.0sec back from the leaders in his Škoda.
Renault Clio rivals Andrea Mabellini and Anthony Fotia set identical times at the head of the ERC4 field as Ulsterman Jon Armstrong dropped almost 3min after beaching his Fiesta Rally4 on a verge. Mabellini also leads the ERC Junior category.
Alberto Monarri tops the ERC Open standings and Paulo Soria grabbed an early advantage in the Clio Trophy by Toksport WRT.
Friday brings a full day of six tests dotted across the island of Gran Canaria. First up is Vasequillo (11.91km) followed by Santa Lucía (14.83km). Tejeda (20.78km) rounds off the loop, which is repeated once more later in the day after a 30-minute service halt.
Standings after Thursday (SS1 /13):
|1.||Simon WAGNER (AUT) / Gerald WINTER (AUT)||Škoda Fabia Rally2||1min 8.6sec|
|2.||Alberto BATTISTOLLI (ITA) / Simone SCATTOLIN (ITA)||Škoda Fabia Rally2||+0.7sec|
|3.||Nil SOLANS (ESP) / Marc MARTÍ (ESP)||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5||+0.9sec|
|4.||Simone CAMPEDELLI (ITA) / Tania CANTON (CHE)||Škoda Fabia Rally2||+1.5sec|
|=5.||Yoann BONATO (FRA) / Benjamin BOULLOUD (FRA)||Citroën C3 Rally2||+1.6sec|
|=5.||Simone TEMPESTINI (ROU) / Sergiu ITU (ROU)||Škoda Fabia Rally2||+1.6sec|
|=5.||Norbert HERCZIG (HUN) / Igor BACIGÁL (HUN)||Škoda Fabia Rally2||+1.6sec|
|=8.||Grzegorz GRZYB (POL) / Tomasz BORKO (POL)||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5||+1.8sec|
|=8.||Miklós CSOMÓS (HUN) / Attila NAGY (HUN)||Škoda Fabia R5||+1.8sec|
|10.||Emmanuel GUIGOU (FRA) / Kevin BRONNER (FRA)||Alpine A110||+2.0sec|
- Full coverage from Rally Islas Canarias will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.