Giandomenico Basso leads the Sanremo Rally at the end of a remarkable opening four stages on Thursday, which kicked off the latest round in the 2008 Intercontinental Rally Challenge.

However, the last epic stage of the rally - the 59.66 kilometres of Ronde - was suspended after an accident for privateer Peugeot driver Sandro Sottile blocked the stage. The crew was uninjured but no other cars were able to pass, leaving several stuck in the stage.

With the rally running progressively behind schedule, the organisers took the decision to call a halt to proceedings early - at just before 01:00 hours [local time] - and so Basso is the leader of his home event at the end of the first day - 27.6 seconds up on Peugeot Italy's Luca Rossetti.

Basso's Abarth team-mate Umberto Scandola, who was fourth in Sanremo last year, won the opening pair of stages to pull out a healthy lead by the time the cars reached service in Sanremo after the first three stages

"It's going perfectly," he said at the time. "The car has been absolutely fantastic and we haven't made any mistakes."

This was not to last however, as on the long stage he ripped a wheel off his Grande Punto and was forced to retire.

His was not the only Abarth to hit problems: Andrea Navarra's car stopped with a transmission-related issue. Salvaging the Italian team's honour was Giandomenico Basso, who now has a lead of nearly half a minute after an extremely impressive performance.

Rossetti was pleased with a provisional second place, but said that there was more to come. "I'm not pushing as hard as I could be," he said. "I also lost a few seconds at the start of one stage because I did not get my time card back promptly. All things considered though, we're doing quite well. I'm just going to drive my own rally and not get distracted by anything else."

Freddy Loix ends the opening day third, having been impressed by the magnitude of the night stage, with current championship leader Nicolas Vouilloz fourth and Renato Travaglia fifth.

"Doing night stages is not something that many people of our generation are used to," said Loix. "But it's a good exercise and you certainly feel it afterwards."

The action now continues on Friday and with an early start none of the Sanremo crews can expect to get much sleep after the tough opening leg. There are four stages in total on Friday, split into two loops of two stages with service in between at Sanremo.

The opening stage of the day, the 24.97-kilometre Monte Ceppo 1, gets underway at 07:59, and from there the crews head straight to the classic San Romolo stage, which starts at 08:58 and is 12.91 kilometres long. At 09:48, the leader will clock into service at Sanremo.

After leaving service the crews repeat the morning's loop of stages. Monte Ceppo 2 starts at 10:56 while San Romolo 2 begins at 11:55. The crews then clock into parc ferme at 13:21: a considerably earlier finish than they faced on the opening leg.

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