Andreas Mikkelsen set a blistering fastest time as the Intercontinental Rally Challenge's five-way title shootout got underway with the Pafos street stage on Thursday evening in Cyprus.
The Skoda UK driver's 2m48.9s time gave him an overnight lead of 3.1 seconds over reigning champion Juho Hanninen in second.
Hanninen was 0.2sec quicker than his works Skoda teammate Jan Kopecky, who leads the championship. Kopecky has had to make a last-minute co-driver change this weekend after regular partner Petr Stary was taken ill. Pavel Dresler is standing in.
Remaining title contenders Freddy Loix (BFO Skoda) and Thierry Neuville (Kronos Peugeot) complete the top five, both within 4.1sec of the lead.