Reigning Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Andreas Mikkelsen took a narrow early lead over 2010 title winner Juho Hanninen as the 2012 series got under way in the Azores this afternoon.
Last year Mikkelsen produced a breakthrough challenge for victory on this event – then held in the summer – before Skoda requested that he hold position behind works driver and rally leader Hanninen.
This time Skoda UK man Mikkelsen got off to the best start by building a 3.2sec lead over Hanninen on the opening stage. The Finn reclaimed two seconds of that advantage on SS2, before Mikkelsen went slightly faster on the day-closing superspecial to head for service with a 1.4sec lead.
Peugeot men Bryan Bouffier and 2010 Azores winner Bruno Magalhaes hold third and fourth, the latter slightly delayed when a handbrake problem forced him to reverse back on course on stage two.