Sebastien Loeb claimed the early Rally Sweden lead by winning the Karlstad superspecial on Thursday night.
At the start of the second of his four appearances in his World Rally Championship swansong year, Loeb set the pace by half a second for Citroen.
Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala and Qatar M-Sport Ford driver Evgeny Novikov set equal second-fastest times, with Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Ostberg tied for fourth.
Qualifying pacesetter Sebastien Ogier was in a head-to-head with Loeb, but lost 2.5s in an impact with a snow bank.
Long-time stage leader Jarkko Nikara ended up eighth on his return with a Prodrive-prepared Mini, just ahead of the delayed Ogier.
Fellow returnees Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson were 10th and 13th. Solberg did a late deal to use a spare M-Sport Ford, while Wilson is standing in for the unwell Nasser Al-Attiyah in the main Qatar M-Sport line-up.
After setting a sensational fourth-fastest time in qualifying, WRC Academy graduate Pontus Tidemand was 14th in his privately-entered Ford.
Leading times after superspecial: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 1h34m52s 2. Jari-Matti Latvala VW + 0.5s 3. Evgeny Novikov Qatar M-Sport Ford + 0.5s 4. Mads Ostberg Qatar M-Sport Ford + 0.7s 5. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen + 0.7s 6. Thierry Neuville Qatar M-Sport Ford + 1.7s 7. Dani Sordo Citroen + 1.9s 8. Jarkko Nikara Prodrive Mini + 2.0s 9. Sebastien Ogier VW + 2.5s 10. Henning Solberg M-Sport Ford + 2.6s