Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier was quickest out the blocks to take the early lead on Rallye Deutschland this evening.
Ogier, who has an outside chance of clinching the 2013 WRC Drivers' title this weekend, completed the opening test, the 23.54 km Blankenheim stage, in 12 minutes 9.8 seconds – 4.6 seconds up on team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala.
The Frenchman was then quickest again in SS2, 1.1 seconds up Latvala and he now heads into the overnight service in Trier with a 5.7 second cushion.
“The Rally Germany has started perfectly for us," said Ogier. "First the great atmosphere in Cologne, with the famous cathedral in the background. And then also from a sporting point of view. My advantage on the first stage was that I was first out onto the route. That definitely won me a few seconds."
"However, the rally does not really get going until tomorrow, when we face six difficult stages in the vineyards," he warned. "It goes without saying that my goal is to still lead come the end of the rally.”
“That was a good start for us – I am very happy with second place," added Latvala. "I hope I can match Séb's pace again tomorrow. My Polo feels very good, although I did have a lot of understeer on the opening stage – as, it would appear, did a lot of other people.
"It was a great idea to move the start of the rally to Cologne. It was an impressive backdrop with so many spectators in front of Cologne Cathedral. This allows us to stir up more interest and win more fans for our sport.”
Behind the two VW Polos, Thierry Neuville led the chasing pack, seven seconds back in his Qatar Fiesta RS WRC, having been third quickest in both SS1 and SS2.
“I hope tomorrow will be a good day for us. We struggled a little with the set-up this evening and I lost some confidence in the first stage [SS1] as it was really slippery,” said Neuville. “Even with just two cars in front of me there was a lot of mud in the corners and you can see from the times that the conditions were getting much trickier further down the field.
“Of course it is a shame to lose 12 seconds after just two stages, but this is the game. Our time was OK in the last stage [SS2] and I think our set-up will be better suited to the kinds of roads we will see tomorrow.”
Citroen duo Dani Sordo and Mikko Hirvonen round out the top five in their DS3 WRC cars, split by 4.3 seconds.