Citroen's Sebastien Loeb set the pace on the opening day of the Rally of Italy in Sardinia, establishing a 33-second lead over stablemate Petter Solberg with Mikko Hirvonen 53 seconds off the pace in his Ford Fiesta.
Loeb bagged four of the day's eight special stages to get his race off to a flier as fellow Frenchman Sebastien Ogier, seeking a third straight win, struggled to impress.
After the morning session, Loeb was just 2.7 seconds ahead of Hirvonen but he dug deep to extend his dominance over the afternoon as Ogier had to make do with fifth place overnight and 55 seconds to make up.
Championship leader and seven-time champion Loeb won the third and fourth special stages of the opening session after Solberg and Hirvonen had shared the opening two.
Hirvonen fought back in taking special stage five but Loeb then added the next two before the Finn, who suffered a puncture in stage seven, pocketed his third of the day to stay in contention.