Juho Hanninen took an early lead on the latest round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge after going quickest on the opening stage of Czech Rally Zlin. The Finn blasted around the Zlin Superspecial in 7m03.4s in his factory Skoda to take a 0.5sec advantage over Skoda UK's Andreas Mikkelsen.
However, Mikkelsen was not worried by the gap to the reigning champion as he opted to run a longer than optimum set of gear ratios because he believes it will make his Fabia 2000 better-suited to Saturday morning's stages.
Jan Kopecky and Freddy Loix made it an all-Skoda front four while Peugeot UK's Guy Wilks was the best of the drivers in anything other than Czech machinery in fifth. The Briton, who is 2.6sec shy of the lead, said he had been too aggressive during the early part of the stage, but smoothed his driving out later on.
Peugeot youngsters Thierry Neuville and Bryan Bouffier were sixth and seventh quickest while the top 10 was rounded out by local drivers Roman Kresta (Skoda), Vaclav Pech (Mitsubishi) and Pavel Valousek (Peugeot).
It was a bad stage for both Patrik Sandell and Craig Breen, who were equal 21st overnight. Sandell was fearful of being penalised for a jumped start after being told to start by officials before the lights had turned green, while Breen had to drive cautiously after taking tyres that were too soft for the conditions.
Leading positions after SS1:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Juho Hanninen Skoda 7m03.4s
2. Andreas Mikkelsen Skoda UK + 0.5s
3. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 1.1s
4. Freddy Loix BFO Skoda + 2.2s
5. Guy Wilks Peugeot UK (Kronos) + 2.6s
6. Thierry Neuville Peugeot Belux (Kronos) + 5.3s
7. Bryan Bouffier PH Peugeot + 8.0s
8. Roman Kresta Adell Mogul Skoda + 10.7s
9. Vaclav Pech Czech Team Mitsubishi + 12.6s
10. Pavel Valousek Czech Team Peugeot + 12.6s