Andreas Mikkelsen holds a narrow early lead on Rally Sanremo following the opening loop of three stages.
After losing a likely maiden Intercontinental Rally Challenge victory when he crashed on the penultimate stage in Hungary a fortnight ago, Skoda UK driver Mikkelsen made an encouraging start in Italy with the quickest time on the opening Coldirodi stage. He heads for service after SS3 with a 1.4-second advantage over Kronos Peugeot's Thierry Neuville in second place.
BFO Skoda driver Freddy Loix was only seventh on SS1, but won the following Bajardo and Bignone stages to move up to third, half a second behind Neuville.
"I didn't wake up enough, but I'm getting older so it takes a little more time," said Loix of his low-key start.
Guy Wilks' challenge is already over after he took a wheel off his Peugeot UK car when he hit a bridge parapet on the opening stage.
Former World Rally Championship frontrunner Chris Atkinson was another very early retirement. The Australian's Proton stopped just seven kilometres through SS1. Giandomenico Basso is eighth in the sister Proton, and was an encouraging fifth-fastest on SS2.
Bryan Bouffier (Peugeot France) is fourth ahead of top local Umberto Scandola's Car Racing Ford, and Peugeot Portugal's Bruno Magalhaes.
Championship leader Jan Kopecky's Skoda is only seventh, 9.2s behind Mikkelsen.
"We need to be a little bit quicker," Kopecky admitted, after a trouble-free but underwhelming start.
Leading positions after SS3: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Andreas Mikkelsen Skoda UK 20m41.0s 2. Thierry Neuville Kronos/Peugeot Belux + 1.4s 3. Freddy Loix BFO Skoda + 1.9s 4. Bryan Bouffier PH/Peugeot France + 4.0s 5. Umberto Scandola Car Ford + 7.0s 6. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot Portugal + 7.8s 7. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 9.2s 8. Giandomenico Basso Proton + 13.0s 9. Pierre Campana Munaretto Peugeot + 21.3s 10. Toni Gardemeister TGS Skoda + 34.7s