Thierry Neuville will lead into the opening day proper of Rallyde de France Alsace after topping the times on Thursday's opening stage in Strasbourg.
The Belgian ace set a time of 2min 44.7secs on his run through the short 3.63km test to outpace the leading factory Ford in the hands of Jari-Matti Latvala by 0.8secs, while Dani Sordo, Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen were a further half a second further back.
“I'm happy with that time, especially as I made a couple of tiny mistakes which probably cost a few tenths of a second,” second-placed Latvala said. “It's always difficult to go directly into a stage from the start because there was no chance to warm up the tyres. It was hard to find the best feeling on cold rubber, but after a few corners the heat started to get into them and it felt better.”
An impressive sixth quickest was Sebastien Chardonnet, who is competing in a full-blown WRC machine for the first time this weekend.
The protégé of Sebastien Loeb's co-driver Daniel Elena was able to outpace the eight-time champion by two-tenths of a second, with Loeb reporting an issue with his pace notes as he came in seventh fastest.
“It was okay but I struggled on the first loop because I was not so happy with my pace notes,” he said. “We did the recce for this stage not in my normal recce car and the notes were a bit wrong. I tried to adjust my rhythm on the second lap.”
Ott Tanak, Evgeny Novikov and Chris Atkinson complete the top ten.
Elsewhere, Le Mans winner Romain Dumas was 14th quickest despite suffering understeer on his MINI John Cooper Works, with WTCC front-runner Yvan Muller 26th in his similar car. Nasser Al-Attiyah meanwhile dropped nearly 20 seconds with a spin.
Craig Breen was quickest of the SWRC drivers through the stage in 19th overall but has an advantage of less than a second over Yazeed Al-Rajhi and PG Andersson going into the 28.67km stage that opens the Friday running.
Rallye de France Alscae: Overall standings after Stage 1 (Top 10):
1. Thierry Neuville
Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC 02mins 44.7secs
2. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 00.8secs
3. Dani Sordo
Prodrive MINI John Cooper Works WRC +00mins 01.3secs
4. Petter Solberg
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 01.3secs
5. Mikko Hirvonen
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 01.3secs
6. Sebastien Chardonnet
FFSA Citroen WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 01.4secs
7. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 01.6secs
8. Ott Tanak
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 02.5secs
9. Evgeny Novikov
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 03.6secs
10. Chris Atkinson
WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +00mins 04.2secs
11. Sebastien Ogier
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 04.5secs
12. Mads Ostberg
Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 04.5secs
13. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 05.1secs
14. Romain Dumas
MINI John Cooper Works WRC +00mins 05.4secs
19. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 09.5secs
23. Paolo Nobre
WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +00mins 10.4secs
26. Yvan Muller
MINI John Cooper Works WRC +00mins 13.0secs
31. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 19.9secs
SWRC standings after Stage 1 - Top 3:
1. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta S2000 02mins 54.4secs
2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi
Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 00.5secs
3. PG Andersson
Proton Satria Neo S2000 +00mins 00.7secs
all times unofficial