Paolo Andreucci proved that age is no barrier to success after he outshone his younger rivals to complete leg one of Rallye Sanremo on top in the chase for FIA European Rally Championship glory on the legendary asphalt event.

Bryan Bouffier had led after two stages, but a mistake on the third run left the Frenchman's Peugeot 207 Super 2000 with damaged rear suspension and lagging almost one minute behind Andreucci's similar machine, after the 48-year-old moved into first place by going fastest on stage three. Although Bouffier took some time back with the quickest time on the first of the two Ronde night stages, Andreucci went fastest again on the day-closing test to underline his ultimate pace.

Heading into Saturday's second leg of six stages, Andreucci leads double European champion Giandomenico Basso by 16.2secs, with Italian title-winner Umberto Scandola a further 20secs back following a troubled run through the second Ronde test in his ?koda Fabia S2000.

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"It went very well," said Andreucci, a multiple Italian champion and double Sanremo winner, "After the first loop, we were very close to the others and, in the night stages, we went a little bit better. It's been a difficult day and a long day, but we've had no problem with the car and the tyres."

Behind Scandola, Bouffier lies fourth, with Alessandro Perico fifth and Esapekka Lappi sixth for ?koda Motorsport on a rare appearance on asphalt. Stefano Albertini is seventh, with Simone Campedelli a strong eighth in his two-wheel-drive Citro?n DS3 R3T. Tobia Cavallini and young Russian Vasily Gryazin (Ford Fiesta S2000) complete the top ten.

Federico Gasperetti, in a Renault M?gane RS N4 holds a clear advantage in the ERC Production Car Cup, with a lead of more than one minute over Austria's Andreas Aigner, who can clinch the title if he maintains second place throughout Saturday's six stages. His Stohl Racing team-mate Toshi Arai, who is competing in an identical Yokohama-shod Subaru Impreza R4 STI, is third.

In the ERC 2WD category, Italian rising star Simone Campedelli heads fellow Citro?n DS3 R3T driver Alex Vittalini, with Gabriele Cogni up to third in a Peugeot 208 R2. Campedelli is being supported by his friend and multiple ERC stage winner Robert Kubica, who is in Sanremo to watch the serious competition ahead.

Hannes Danzinger (Renault Clio R3) held the final podium spot starting stage four, only for a front-right puncture to cost him vital time and drop him to a distant 14th in class. With Korn?l Luk?cs unable to score the leg bonus points needed to keep his title challenge alive, Zolt?n Bessenyey is the new ERC 2WD champion for Eurosol despite electing not to compete in Sanremo.

"It's been a very good season and thanks to everyone who helped us get these results," Bessenyey said from his native Hungary.

Craig Breen was in the hunt for first place only to damage his Peugeot's left-rear suspension striking a drain on stage four.

"I'm absolutely gutted and I really don't know what happened," the Irishman admitted, "I thought this was going to be my weekend, but obviously not. It's been a disaster."

There was more frustration for the Peugeot Rally Academy when J?r?mi Ancian stopped in stage three with a mechanical problem on his 207 S2000.

Team Renault Sport Technologies' Robert Consani will return to the action on Saturday after a broken hub carrier forced his exit following stage one. New team-mate Alain Pyrame is fourth in the ERC Production Car Cup division on his European championship debut. The Guadalupe driver is one place behind Japan's Toshi Arai in the class standings.

Leg two features six stages over a competitive distance of 125.02km, beginning with the 19.93-kilometre Colle Langan stage at 1059hrs local time on Saturday.