Peugeot driver Gilles Panizzi has dominated the opening day of action on the fourth round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Rallye Catalunya-Costa Brava. The Frenchman set fastest time on all of today's stages to build up a comfortable advantage over team-mate Richard Burns.
Behind the two 206 drivers, things are much closer, with a close battle between the Citroens of Sebastien Loeb and Philippe Bugalski, Subaru's Petter Solberg and the remaining Peugeot of Marcus Grönholm.
Clear blue skies and warm sunshine brought huge crowds to the roads in the Tarragona region of Spain, and event officials decided to scrap today's opening stage because of worries over spectator safety.
The Peugot 206 WRC of Gilles Panizzi has been reliable today. His team-mate Marcus Grönholm complained of excessive oversteer in SS2, however, and he then suffered a long brake pedal for much of SS3. Richard Burns encountered a milder form of the same problem in the same stage.
Panizzi took the lead on this morning's first stage and the Frenchman set fastest times on all of the following tests to build up a comfortable advantage by the end of today's action. Team-mate Richard Burns looks equally confident in second - despite admitting to settling in slowly on the first stage, the reigning world champion was Panizzi's closest challenger and he repeated that role for much of the day to hold the runners-up spot.
The third 206 driver, Marcus Grönholm, lost time when his car's handling became loose in the first stage of the day, and when his brake pedal became long for much of the long (48km) SS3. He still holds a top six position, though.
Gilles Panizzi said: ''It's been going well, although you do have to think about the tyres in these conditions. The temperatures and the pressures are getting quite high and you have to learn to push the tyre to just beneath its limit. If you go over the limit, then you can never push again on those tyres. That was quite important in the long stage, because I had to think about it the whole time. The car feels fantastic, though - I've got great confidence in how it is handling.''
His team-mate Richard Burns added: ''I'm quite pleased to be so close to the pace of Gilles, and challenging again at the right end of the battle. Gilles has a bit more knowledge of our tyres and how they behave, which probably helps him a bit, although he's been giving me some advice about it. The car feels good, but I'm not sure how we're going to catch up with Gilles.''
At Citroen the Xsara WRCs of Philippe Bugalski, Sebastien Loeb and Thomas Rådström have been generally ok. Loeb complained of too soft a tyre choice for the long SS3, however, and Bugalski suffered a vibration from the right-front near the end of the same test. A change of anti-roll bar settings helped Bugalski's feel for the Xsara's handling later in the afternoon.