Abarth works team leader Giandomenico Basso holds the overnight lead of the Rally Principe de Asturias, the latest round in the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge, after a fast and furious day's action on the roads around host town Oviedo.
Local fans meanwhile have cheered on the privately-entered Skoda Fabia of Asturian ace Alberto Hevia, who led the rally in its early stages on Friday and holds second place after returning to top-flight action after a year off.
Basso, who won the event in 2008, leapfrogged Hevia and defending IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz's Benelux Peugeot 207 on the seventh stage of a gruelling nine-stage opening leg after Hevia clipped a rock and damaged his steering.
In a tough run for other front-runners, championship leader Kris Meeke lost three minutes to a puncture in his Peugeot UK-entered 207, as did Freddy Loix in the second Benelux car and Guy Wilks in the Proton Satria Neo.
These troubles have handed the initiative in the title race to works Skoda ace Jan Kopecky. The Czech star, who won the Barum Czech Rally Zlin on home ground last month, has closed up on Hevia's second place at the overnight halt. Currently just three points behind Meeke, a strong points haul for Kopecky on this event would put a whole new complexion on the IRC title race.
Italian privateer Corrado Fontana holds fourth place in his Peugeot at the overnight halt after Wilks had his dramas at the start of SS9, not only picking up a puncture but also a transmission glitch that left him with rear-wheel-drive only. Behind Fontana lie the Benelux and Peugeot UK cars of Vouilloz, Loix and Meeke, seemingly in a race of their own to minimise the damage to their points' scores.
In the 2WD Cup, a thrilling tit-for-tat battle in the opening stages saw title contenders Denis Millet of France in his Peugeot 207 and Italian Manuel Villa in his Abarth Punto trading fastest times and the overall lead. Nevertheless, it is the championship leader Millet who has consolidated his early lead to stand 36.8s clear Villa, bolstering Peugeot's chances in the manufacturers' standings.
There were plenty of incidents through the course of the day. French privateer Julien Maurin crashed out on the first stage, but his Skoda will restart Leg 2 under SupeRally regulations. Spaniard Miguel Fuster - driving the second works Abarth Grande Punto on his home event - also hit drama on SS2, his accident blocking the stage for the rest of the field. SS8 was also cancelled in the evening as the sheer volume of spectators on the stage made conditions unsafe.
Six more special stages will form Saturday's closing leg, returning to the host city of Oviedo at 16.00 hours [local time].