Petter Solberg was quickest through the spectacular Guanajuato superspecial that opened Rally Mexico on Thursday evening.
The new 1.05-kilometer street stage features an underground section in a tunnel and some running on cobbles, and attracted a huge and enthusiastic crowd. Although the stage was completed in less than a minute and has little in common with the gravel tests that will form the majority of the rally, pacesetter Solberg gave it his enthusiastic backing.
"There are so many people, it's crazy," said the Citroen driver. "This is what we need for the sport and even if it's a short stage, it makes the crowd crazy. It's very, very tricky. In the tunnel, I just about hit the wall, just with the rim."
The works Citroens were second and third, with Sebastien Loeb 0.2sec slower than Solberg and 0.3sec ahead of teammate Sebastien Ogier, who said he had taken it very easy.
"It's good to be here, it's not rallying but it's a rally car running inside an amazing city so it's good for the show," said Ogier. "We just drove in the middle of the road and took absolutely no risks. The rally starts tomorrow morning."
The factory Fords completed the top five, Jari-Matti Latvala just ahead of Mikko Hirvonen.
Munchi's Ford's Federico Villagra started his first appearance of 2011 with sixth, while returnee Evgeny Novikov was equal seventh with his Stobart Ford teammate Matthew Wilson.
Kimi Raikkonen is not present this weekend, Mexico being one of the events he is skipping in his reduced 2011 program.
The Guanajuato street stage is used again at the end of both Friday and Saturday, with another short street stage in Leon also featuring during those days. The gravel stages commence with Alfaro on Friday.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time
1. Petter Solberg Solberg Citroen 53.2s
2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 0.2s
3. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 0.5s
4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 1.2s
5. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 1.6s
6. Federico Villagra Munchi's Ford + 2.3s
7. Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford + 2.7s
= Evgeny Novikov Stobart Ford + 2.7s
9. Mads Ostberg Stobart Ford + 2.8s
10. Nasser Al-Attiyah Barwa Ford + 3.5s