Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier has taken the early lead on Wales Rally GB, finishing SS3 with a 12.9s advantage over Kris Meeke.
Ogier, who is looking to bounce back after a disappointing two events in Spain and France, edged out team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala by 0.8s in the opening stage of the day, Hafren 1.
The Frenchman was then quickest again in SS2, and with Latvala crashing out, after going off into a ditch, he headed to SS3 with a 6 second lead, which he more than doubled with his third stage win in a row.
“Good to be first on the road today,” Ogier told the official WRC site. “I'm sure all the drivers would agree. On one hand it was an advantage with the grip, on the other it can be hard being first to discover the conditions and read the grip. By stage three I had a good feeling though. There was better grip there - more compact ground.
“It is a shame about Jari. I was looking forward to the fight.”
His only complaint came at the end of the opening test, after coming across some spectators walking on the road.
“[It was a] difficult [first test]... with some crazy people in the road in the middle of the stage, not even moving [when I went by],” he added earlier on.
Meanwhile, after Latvala's exit, Meeke is now Ogier's closest challenger, 12.9s back in his Citroen DS 3 WRC, and 3.9s up on VW Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen.
“Reasonably happy,” said Meeke, who lost a few seconds at the start of SS1 when he made a mistake. “It's been a good morning. I felt good and the rhythm was good. I've been surprised by the amount of grip available here. You can really commit.
“I'm happy with my set-up for the afternoon, but the stages change so quickly you can't plan too much - I'm keeping an open mind.”
Mikkelsen, who missed the shakedown on Thursday, eased himself in with the fourth best time in SS1, before going third in SS2 and second in SS3: “The grip is changing all the time. Sometimes it is there, sometimes it isn't. Trying to drive on the limit when it's like that is very challenging!” he explained.
“For me the new target is second in the championship. With Jari-Matti gone, I need to win and take a point on the Power Stage [to do that].”
Citroen's Mads Ostberg is next up, despite completing the loop with mud having seeped into his DS 3 WRC, ahead of M-Sport's Elfyn Evans and the Hyundai's of Dani Sordo and Hayden Paddon.
“Not exactly what I wanted. I'd prefer it to be muddy on the outside only,” Ostberg remarked. “Today has been good though. Just trying a few things with set-up and the driving. We're doing what we need to do in the manufacturers championship so far."
“The conditions are really tricky but it's been an okay morning from us,” Evans added. “It's not perfect as I've been a little hesitant in places but still a fairly solid run. The car has been okay – I have a bit of understeer but I think a lot of people are having the same issue in these conditions. It's going well so far and we'll see what we can do over the second pass.”
Behind, Ott Tanak holds eighth, 2.4s off Paddon, with Ford privateer Martin Prokop ninth – 25s further back – and Citroen youngster Stephane Lefebvre tenth.
“These conditions are proper Wales Rally GB spec,” Tanak stated. “The first stage cut up quite a lot and the surface was getting very soft so we struggled to get the power down in there. The last stage [of the morning, SS3] had a harder base and didn't feel too bad. We didn't get a perfect rhythm with the notes and it was getting really slippery, but otherwise it has been okay with no major issues or dramas.”
Of the other front runners, in addition to Latvala, Hyundai duo Thierry Neuville and Kevin Abbring were both sidelined in SS3. Neuville lost a wheel, while Abbring stopped just 2km from the end when a temperature warning light came on.
Former F1 driver, Robert Kubica also had trouble in Myherin, losing almost three minutes when he had to stop and change a puncture, dropping the Pole from 8th to 17th.
In WRC2, Craig Breen leads, having won two of the three morning tests. Teemu Suninen is second, 8.8s back, and 1s up on Eric Camilli in third.
Competitors now head to the re-group and tyre fitting zone in Newton – there is no mid-day service – before tackling all three stages again. SS4, the 32.14km Hafren 2 test, is due to start at 13.29 hours local time. Full itinerary available - HERE
2015 Wales Rally GB: Overall standings after Stage 3 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 37m 36.3s
2. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 12.9s
3. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +0m 16.8s
4. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 22.8s
5. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +0m 40.3s
6. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +0m 49.4s
7. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +0m 54.5s
8. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +0m 56.9s
9. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 21.9s
10. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +1m 44.8s
11. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 56.4s
12. Craig Breen
Peugeot 208 T16 +2m 36.3s
13. Teemu Suninen
Skoda Fabia S2000 +2m 45.1s
14. Eric Camilli
Ford Fiesta R5 +2m 46.1s
15. Eyvind Brynildsen
Skoda Fabia R5 +3m 27.7s
16. Valeriy Gorban
Mini Cooper S2000 1.6T +3m 28.6s
17. Robert Kubica
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 29.7s
WRC2 standings after Stage 3 (Top 3):
1. Craig Breen
Peugeot 208 T16 40m 12.6s
2. Teemu Suninen
Skoda Fabia S2000 +0m 08.8s
3. Eric Camilli
Ford Fiesta R5 +0m 09.8s
SS2. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC Went off
SS3. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC Lost a wheel
SS3. Kevin Abbring
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Mechanical
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial