“We thought we had a driveshaft problem this morning but it was actually a problem with the front differential, which we repaired,” Al-Attiyah added. “It will not be easy to close the gap to Andreas but I will try my best.”
Meanwhile, Freddy Loix, one of five IRC title contenders prior to the start, struggled to make an impact in his BFO-Skoda Rally Team Fabia. The normally rapid Belgian hadn't driven on gravel stages for three years and lacked the cutting edge needed to threaten the podium positions on the loose surface sections, although a spin on stage five didn't help his cause. He is fourth overnight, 1m41.2s behind Mikkelsen.
Patrik Sandell is a strong fifth for Skoda Sweden with Estonian teenager Karl Kruuda sixth in his privateer Fabia.
Multiple German champion Matthias Kahle is seventh although a double puncture has hit Skoda Auto Deutschland team-mate Mark Wallenwein's chances of a top 10 finish.
Toshi Arai heads the IRC Production Cup standings in his Subaru Impreza R4 STI, while Cypriots Nicos Thomas and Charalambos Timotheou complete the top 10 in their Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancers.
Jean-Michel Raoux leads the IRC 2WD Cup with title rival Stefano Albertini and outgoing champion Harry Hunt still in contention in second and third respectively. Honda Civic Type R driver Janos Puskadi is fifth after early delays.
Saturday's action features three repeated stages north-east of the rally base in Pafos. The first stage of the day, Gialia, is 100 per cent gravel. The next stage, Stavros, takes place entirely on asphalt with the Anadiou test using a combination of asphalt and gravel and shown live on Eurosport
Although Hanninen and Neuville will restart under SupeRally regulations their hopes of the IRC title are all but over leaving Mikkelsen, Kopecky and Loix in a winner takes-all battle for glory.
Cyprus Rally - Top ten IRC positions (after day one):
1. Andreas Mikkelsen /Ola Floene
Skoda Fabia S2000 1h07m17.7s
2. Nasser Al-Attiyah /Giovanni Bernacchini
M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +20.7s
3. Jan Kopecky /Pavel Dresler
Skoda Fabia S2000 +46.1s
4. Freddy Loix /Frederic Miclotte
Skoda Fabia S2000 +1m41.2s
5. Patrik Sandell /Staffan Parmander
Skoda Fabia S2000 +1m46.3s
6. Karl Kruuda /Martin Jarveoja
Skoda Fabia S2000 +2m43.5s
7. Matthias Kahle /Peter Gobel
Skoda Fabia S2000 +3m30.6s
8. Toshi Arai /Dale Moscatt
Subaru Impreza R4 STI +4m35.3s
9. Nicos Thomas /Angelos Loizides
Ralliart Lancer Evo IX +5m23.7s
10. Charalambos Timotheou /Pambos Laos
Ralliart Lancer Evo IX +6m42.9s
IRC Production Cup:
Toshi Arai /Dale Moscatt (Subaru Impreza R4 STI)
IRC 2WD Cup:
Jean-Michel Raoux /Laurent Magat (Renault Clio R3)