The world's top rally stars have thrilled huge crowds on the opening day of the Rallye Catalunya - Costa Brava. Citroen
celebrated its arrival in the series by leading from the opening stage, thanks to the efforts of Spanish champion Jesus Puras.
Team-mate Philippe Bugalski then boosted the French manufacturer's joy further by moving into second by the end of the day.
However, the event has not been without controversy for the French marque with Puras having been under intense scrutiny yesterday following claims of irregular practice and pace notes. Late last night, however, the stewards cleared the Spaniard to start.
Behind the Citroens, the Peugeots of Gilles Panizzi and Didier Auriol, and Mitsubishi's Tommi Mäkinen, are all poised to challenge the Xsara WRC's tomorrow.
Jesus Puras grabbed the lead on this morning's opening stage and extended his advantage as the day progressed.
''I'm a bit surprised to be leading, because there's a lot of loose gravel getting pulled out into the road in the corners and I've been taking risks,” explained Puras. “But I know if we're to have any chance we need to be further up the running order tomorrow so I've been pushing accordingly. It's a great day for Citroen.''
Team-mate Philippe Bugalski struggled initially with his car's brakes after suffering a broken disc on the road section to the first service this morning. Although the team replaced the offending item, it took a couple of stages for the Frenchman to gain more confidence in the car's braking.
Bugalski went on to set a fastest time in SS3 and then continued at that pace this afternoon, moving him into second overall.
''The first couple of stages were hard but it's got better ever since,” said Bugalski. “I've got a good feeling with the car now, and now that we've moved up the running order we have a chance.''
Marcus Grönholm made good use of clean roads and increasing confidence on asphalt to hold a top three position for most of this morning. But on the repeated long stage this afternoon, he ripped the left-rear wheel from his car on a concrete post and was forced to retire for the third time in four outings.
“We got caught out on a slow corner,” admitted Gronholm. “It was maybe only second gear, but we couldn't stay on the good surface. We slid wide, hit the gravel and then went further. The rear of the car hit a concrete post and that was it. I'm disappointed, obviously, because it was going well up to that point.''
His team-mates have had to dig deep to beat crews running further up the order and improve their chances of clean roads tomorrow. Didier Auriol helped his cause with second and fourth fastest times this morning, but was unhappy with his starting position: ''It's hard to make an impression on the leaders and improve my road position when I'm running this far back. The leading crews are cutting corners a lot and pulling gravel into the road. But I had to try. I'm pleased. ''