Pre-rally favorite Freddy Loix leads the Belgium Ypres Rally at the overnight halt, but Kris Meeke has continued his career revival by keeping pace with the local star around the tortuous asphalt stages.
Meeke, the winner of the last two rounds of this year's Intercontinental Rally Challenge, declared himself 'surprised' to be trading fastest times with his veteran Belgian rival on home soil.
"I'm just driving my own stages," Meeke said. "I'm very surprised to be going so quickly, and I knew that if I came back into service leading the rally I'd be for the high jump... I don't want to beat Freddy."
Having passed Loix for the championship lead with victory at the last IRC round in the Azores, Meeke has pledged to go carefully and ensure that he does not throw away his chances on the notorious roads in Flanders.
Nevertheless he and the Belgian former World Rally Championship driver have pulled away from the chasing pack on every stage, with the gap between them standing at 4.9 seconds at the end of leg one.
Czech asphalt ace Jan Kopecky trails them by 8.4s in his works Skoda Fabia S2000, with a charging Giandomenico Basso clawing back time for Abarth in the battle for fourth, ahead of Kopecky's team-mate Juho Hanninen by 0.2s.
Both the BF Goodrich Peugeot being guest-driven by Thierry Neuville and Britain's other leading entry in the event, the new Proton Satria of Guy Wilks, joined the high-profile retirements.
The 21-year-old Belgian talent crashed out of the event on the sixth stage, Lille-Eurometropole 2, after a strong performance through the day. Wilks, who was struggling with an over-eager engine temperature warning and without the ideal gear ratios because of homologation issues, crashed out on SS5.
The rally restarts at 12:30 local time on Saturday with a further 10 stages until the finish in the evening.Leading positions after leg one:
Pos Driver Car Time
1. Freddy Loix Peugeot 1h03m46.4s
2. Kris Meeke Peugeot + 4.9s
3. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 13.3s
4. Giandeomenico Basso Abarth + 56.9s
5. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 57.1s
6. Pieter Tsjoen Peugeot + 1m09.2s
7. Jasper van den Heuvel Mitsubishi + 1m41.0s
8. Luca Betti Peugeot + 2m40.6s
9. Corrado Fontana Peugeot + 2m41.4s
10. Franz Wittmann Mitsubishi + 3m57.1s