Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has taken the early initiative on the Neste Oil Rally Finland following the short 2.06 kilometre-run through the Killeri super special this evening, which as normal kicked off proceedings.
Loeb was paired with current championship leader and chief rival for the crown, local star Mikko Hirvonen in his 'duel' and the Frenchman came out top by 0.4 seconds, completing the test in 1 minute 20.5 seconds.
Hirvonen's 'best' left him joint third on the overall leaderboard with Subaru's Chris Atkinson, while Dani Sordo was second to give Citroen an early one-two.
Mikko had a little scare during his run in front of the thousands of fans, who turned out to watch the 99 starters. Indeed the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT #1 gently tapped the barriers near the start and sustained some minor damage to the rear of his Focus.
"It was an enjoyable, fast stage but it was also a little scary because the test has been built with concrete and metal blocks so it was important not to damage the car," said Hirvonen, who is celebrating his 28th birthday today.
"For me the rally starts tomorrow and I didn't drive flat out because I have bad memories of retiring there in 2004, so I took it cautiously. There is always so much excitement on the opening stage of Rally Finland and it's great the event has finally started. I can't wait until tomorrow."
Petter Solberg meanwhile completed the top five, fractionally ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, while Citroen privateer Urmo Aava and Andreas Mikkelsen were seventh and eighth respectively.
"There was one tight left bend but generally the stage was fast with plenty of room in which to power the Focus around," said Latvala. "The surface was smooth and it was good fun. I try not to think about what Rally Finland means to a Finn like me or I become distracted, but it was great to see the crowd and it filled me with confidence. I'm relaxed."
Further down the order, Stobart Ford duo Gigi Galli and Henning Solberg rounded out the top ten with Mads Ostberg eleventh and Munchi's Ford WRT man Federico Villagra twelfth.