Thousands of fans packed Tir Prince Raceway in County Conwy on Thursday night as the FIA World Rally Championship stars and cars lit up the night skies with a spectacular start to Wales Rally GB 2017.

The eagerly-anticipated event – the penultimate round on the WRC calendar – burst into life with the Visit Conwy Tir Prince speed test, as a series of jumps and flames under the floodlights dazzled the throngs of spectators.

Video and images by Don Jackson-Wyatt

“Tir Prince Raceway provided a show-stopping backdrop for the curtain-raiser to what promises to be a truly epic Dayinsure Wales Rally GB,” said event Managing Director, Ben Taylor.

“It was wonderful to see so many people flock to what is a new venue for our round of the World Rally Championship, and the drivers and co-drivers unquestionably made it worth their while with popular autograph and selfie sessions and a brilliant display of sideways slides – and there will be plenty more where that came from over the coming days!”

Frenchman Sébastien Ogier – who is gunning for a record-breaking fifth victory in Wales and with it a fifth WRC Drivers’ crown – was fastest on what looks likely to be a historic weekend for his British employer M-Sport, with his team-mate and home hero Elfyn Evans just over a second behind in fifth.

The Welshman – who hails from just down the road in Dolgellau – has high hopes of challenging for glory this weekend, after setting the pace in front of huge crowds on the morning’s Shakedown through Clocaenog forest. Evans’ DMACK tyres have the potential to give him an edge on an event that no Brit has won since the late Richard Burns 17 years ago.

“I’m trying not to feel any pressure,” the 28-year-old said. “This is my home rally and I want to enjoy it. We will focus on ourselves and do the best possible job we can. This is a long, tough rally and we need to get through it stage-by-stage.

“For sure, there will be sections on stages which are very, very slippery. We might see some of the stages drying out on the long loop on Saturday... who knows what they’ll look like. We’re not taking anything for granted, but we’re here to aim for the win.”

The WRC teams returned to their overnight halt at the Deeside Rally Village, ahead of an early start on Friday for six classic special stages in mid-Wales.