"I enjoyed myself, even though it was difficult to fight with the top three drivers today. I think I should go better tomorrow, as the stages are narrower and more twisty," he stated.
Further down the order, Subaru's Petter Solberg finished up fifth and although the Norwegian isn't far behind Duval in P4, he did slip back further in SS4, SS5 and SS6, with the gap increasing from less than a second to 5.3 seconds post-Arbellara 2.
'Hollywood' complained of under-steer in both loops: "I'm still getting a lot of understeer. I'm trying to find the right compromise between pushing hard and looking after my tyres."
Jari-Matti Latvala rounds the top six, the Stobart Ford man having moved ahead of Chris Atkinson in SS4. Jari managed to set the fourth best time in SS4 and SS5 and then beat Chris again in SS6, when he was sixth fastest. Chris though didn't lose too much and finished the day just 3.3 seconds back in his Impreza.
"It's been an extremely positive day for me," said Jari. "I have been able to fight with some drivers who are extremely quick on asphalt, such as Francois Duval and Petter Solberg."
Subaru 'third' driver, Xavier Pons completes the provisional points' scorers at this early stage, in eighth. Like Petter he complained of under-steer and as such didn't feel 100 per cent confident.
Of the rest, Skoda privateer, Jan Kopecky and Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg came in ninth and tenth, followed by Andreas Mikkelsen, Manfred Stohl and Matthew Wilson.
Stohl had a bad day and has just been trying to re-gain his confidence after his off in Spain last weekend: "I'm just glad that today is over really," said the OMV Kronos Citroen driver, "I've never felt comfortable and tomorrow is a brand new day."
In the Junior Rally Championship category, Urmo Aava took over the lead in SS5 in his Suzuki Swift and then proceeded to pull out a bit of a gap over Martin Prokop, who drops to second, now 8.8 seconds adrift.
Aava's main eye though will be on his team-mate and championship rival, Per-Gunnar Andersson, who finished proceedings in third, 16.9 seconds back. P-G will need to put his foot down on Saturday if he is to close the gap and keep himself in with a chance of the title.
Aaron Burkart and Jozef Beres round out the JRC top five, with Conrad Rautenbach sixth.