Local expert Alberto Hevia has taken an early lead in the Principe de Asturias Rally in Spain, while Intercontinental Rally Challenge leader Kris Meeke has been dealt a blow after dropping three minutes with a left-rear puncture.
The Peugeot UK driver – who was in a strong fifth prior to the incident on SS4 – has now dropped out of the points to 10th, at the halfway point of the opening day.
Hevia, driving Skoda Spain's Fabia S2000, has led from the start of the event but is caught up in a tense battle with reigning IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz in his Peugeot Belgium 207. Only a handful of seconds separate the pair, while Abarth's Giandomenico Basso is further down the road in third.
It was a disastrous start for the Abarth team after its second factory driver, Miguel Fuster – a local ace called in to replace Anton Alen for Asturias – crashed on the second stage and blocked it. Although the damage on the car seems to be light, it is not known whether or not the former Spanish tarmac champion will be able to restart tomorrow.
Meeke's closest challenger for the title is Skoda's Jan Kopecky, who is now up to fourth behind Basso. The Czech driver, who won last time out on the Barum Rally Zlin, set the fastest time on the third stage.
Peugeot Belgium's Freddy Loix is fifth while Guy Wilks is currently sixth in the new Proton Satria Neo S2000. The Englishman has experienced no problems apart from an overshoot earlier in the morning.
Former World Championship star Toni Gardemeister has struggled on his debut with the Opel Corsa S2000. Despite complaining of a lack of power, the Finn has nonetheless made it into the points.
Four stages remain to run today before the end of the leg at 2140 local time.