Sebastien Ogier grabbed the advantage at Rally Argentina by winning Wednesday afternoon's superspecial stage.
The Volkswagen Polo R WRC driver was 1.9 seconds ahead of Dani Sordo, with the Spaniard's Citroen teammate Sebastien Loeb third fastest, 2.2sec down on the early leader.
Ogier's inch-perfect run through the 3.75-mile gravel stages on the outskirts of Villa Carlos Paz was watched by 60,000 fans. The World Rally Championship leader's early success was doubly satisfying as he beat countryman and rival Loeb in a head-to-head race on the stage.
"It's a nice feeling to start the rally like this," said Ogier at the finish. "There are so many people here, it's a good atmosphere."
Sordo admitted to a slightly cautious run, following his roll at a promotional event in Buenos Aires last weekend.
"I didn't want to push like hell. OK, this is part of the rally, but it's more for the show and I didn't want to make a mistake," he said.
Unusually, Loeb did make mistakes in the sister DS3 WRC.
"There were a lot [of mistakes] in the stage," said Loeb. "They have to stop. But it's always a great atmosphere on this rally and it was in this stage. Ogier was very fast."
Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen ensured there were three Polo R WRCs in the top five overnight, with the Finn admitting to a slightly cautious approach to his opening lap of the stage.
Mikko Hirvonen rounded out the top six, conceding he found the opener slippery, while local hero Marcos Ligato took an early advantage in the WRC2 category aboard his Subaru Impreza.
Rally Argentina proper gets underway on Thursday, with two loops of the Santa Catalina-La Pampa (16.83 miles) and Ascochinga-Agua do Oro (32.33 miles) stages planned.