Intercontinental Rally Challenge leader Kris Meeke set the fastest time as the 50th Rally Madeira got underway this evening with the streets of host city Funchal crammed with tens of thousands of fans watching the opening Superspecial stage.
The 2.18km course wended its way through the streets on the historic seafront as a taster for the rest of the action coming over the next two days on the Atlantic island.
Despite professing to be on a conservative strategy once again before the off, Peugeot driver Meeke stormed through the stage 0.9sec faster than local hero Bruno Magalhaes in his similar car.
"Third place here would feel like a win," Meeke said. "I've won three in a row but the points difference to Jan Kopecky in second place is still only one point. It's clear how competitive the IRC is this year and I've got to focus on getting points."
Peugeots filled the six of the eight top places as the field returned to parc ferme, with only the works Abarths of Luca Rossetti and Giandomenico Basso offering any resistance.
Meanwhile, 2WD Cup contender Samir Sousa was forced to withdraw after his Peugeot 206 S1600 suffered a terminal oil pump failure on the way to the start ramp.