Local star Paulo Andreucci leads Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Kris Meeke by 0.1 seconds in the Rally Italia-Sardinia, as Sebastien Ogier, Guy Wilks and Andreas Mikkelsen all fell by the wayside before the opening stage was over.
With last night's planned Cagliari superspecial cancelled six weeks ago due to funding issues, the rally officially started with SS2, the tough 28-kilometer Monte Grighine test.
World Rally Championship star Ogier stopped his Peugeot with a puncture initially, and then pulled up for good shortly afterwards with a mechanical problem and smoke from under the hood. He was not the only big name in trouble on SS2, as Wilks (Skoda UK) crashed in the early miles. The Briton has been airlifted to hospital as a precaution having reported some back pain after the accident.
IRC newcomer Mikkelsen went off nearby, rolling and getting his Ford stuck off the road. Fellow WRC rising star P-G Andersson was yet another victim of SS2, hitting a rock and having to stop to attend to damage on his Group N Mitsubishi, which cost him four minutes.
That left Skoda's Jan Kopecky leading at the end of the stage ahead of Peugeot drivers Meeke and Andreucci. The latter had lost a little time with a puncture near the end of the stage, but a clear run through SS3 allowed him to show what he could do - and Andreucci duly took the stage win and jumped into a narrow lead.
Kopecky went in the other direction, hitting a rock and sustaining tyre and possible suspension damage. He fell to fourth, behind his championship-leading team-mate Juho Hanninen, who has been struggling for grip due to running first on the road since Ogier's early exit.