Pontus Tidemand steered clear of drama to lead WRC 2 after a gruelling opening leg at Rally Italia Sardegna on Friday.
Driving a Skoda Fabia Rally2, Tidemand quickly found his rhythm on the tight and twisty Sardinian stages to open up a hefty 31.9sec advantage over Adrien Fourmaux.
A win this weekend would allow him to further tighten his grip at the top of the championship, however, there is still a long way to go and the Swede is under no illusions that anything could happen.
“For sure, no trouble, but it wasn’t easy on our first time here. We will try our best but everybody is giving it their best behind us, so we need to keep going,” he said.
Had it not been for a stroke of bad luck, M-Sport Ford Fiesta man Fourmaux could have been in front. The Frenchman claimed three impressive stage victories over the course of the day, but a puncture in the Sedini – Castelsardo speed test slowed his progress.
Eyvind Brynildsen was 40.0sec behind Fourmaux in another Skoda. Just like Tidemand, he kept his nose clean whilst rivals hit trouble and rounded out the top three at the end of the day.
Fellow countryman Ole Christian Veiby was 13.4sec further back in fourth. The Hyundai pilot dropped over a minute on SS3 with a puncture.
Title challenger Mads Østberg had a nightmare start to the rally. The Norwegian was forced to limp through the opening four stages with his Citroën C3 R5 stuck in rear-wheel-drive and he dropped over five minutes.
Russian Nikolay Gryazin was the only casualty of the day. He was forced to stop after picking up a double puncture on the penultimate stage, but will restart the event on Saturday morning.