Robert Kubica admitted that he has been pleasantly surprised by his pace on the opening day of Rally of Portugal.
Kubica's Citroen was the fastest of the Regional Rally Cars competing on the Faro-based event by the end of the day's four gravel stages. When he was forced to retire with a lack of useable tyres on the road to Lisbon, only rising Finnish star and factory Skoda driver Esapekka Lappi was ahead of him in WRC2.
"I am surprised, I drove very good stages for me today," he said. "I cannot say I am happy, there is still a long way to go and I have to work a lot for sure in the future. But to be here, for the first time on gravel and to be able to drive like I did in three stages, it was a good piece of work from my side."
He added, however, that the Portuguese roads had posed more of a challenge than he had expected.
"It was a mixed day today," he said. "In the first stage I struggled for grip and had very poor confidence, but that improved in the second stage, where we had one small moment when we slid off the road over a crest.
"It is very difficult to drive here for the first time and additionally for me with no experience [of gravel rallying]. These are very, very difficult stages with a lot of crests. I was a bit surprised on some corners. For me, it is difficult to judge when you drive [in the recce] at 50kph, how a single crest will affect the car.
"You cannot say: 'OK, I back off on these two corners and I will only lose two seconds,' because it is practically every three corners that there is a crest of a jump or something affecting the car."
Talking about his retirement from the event, he said: "We cut the rear tire and [another] rear tire was slightly off the rim. The tire lost the air slowly and we had no chance to arrive [in Lisbon] with only one spare."