After the car-breaking roads of Greece the FIA Junior World Rally Championship turned to asphalt for this fourth event in the six-round series.

However, the 24 crews that started Rallye Deutschland quickly discovered that asphalt can be just as tricky as gravel when it has been rain-soaked for several days!

Of the 24 JWRC starters four retired during the opening leg but Ford Puma drivers Francois Duval and Martin Rowe ended today's action in the points positions and with everything to play for over the next two days.

Duval and co-driver Jean-Marc Fortin got off to a steady start by the 21-year old Belgian's standards, his progress through SS3 hampered by a misfire.

"There were a lot of uphill hairpins and so that was not helpful to our overall position," he admitted. "It cost us around 20 seconds but we were able to make some adjustments to the electrical systems in service and that solved the problem."

The team also changed the suspension settings for the drying conditions and Duval immediately beat his closest JWRC rivals on the next stage. "It's all been fine this afternoon; no more misfires, a good set up and lots of grip but I'm not convinced I'm personally getting the best out of the car," he said tonight.

British Rally Champions Martin Rowe and Chris Wood had a half spin on SS2 and said afterwards: "It's not so easy to judge where you can push and where you need to be careful in these conditions on a new event. We'll try to maintain a steady pace until we are more confident about the roads. We're in the points positions tonight and it's important to stay there for the next two days."

The Swedish pairing of Daniel Carlsson and Mattias Andersson was fortunate to be in the rally when the crews left Trier this morning. An accident during yesterday's shakedown required attention from the Astra team mechanics. Carlsson was excused last night's ceremonial start in order for the work to be completed and he was ready for action this morning. Unfortunately his troubles weren't entirely behind him and the car broke a driveshaft on the second stage.

"It was a new shaft and so we have no idea why it should fail," said Astra team manager Luca Pregliasco. "Sometimes these things just happen."

The team made changes to the suspension set up for this afternoon's drier stages and to reduce the wheelspin out of tight corners.

Paraguay's Alejandro Galanti and his Spanish co-driver Xavier Colon were not so fortunate in Germany. The Ford Puma contingent was cut from six to five yesterday when Galanti crashed during the shakedown test and the Puma was too badly damaged for it to be safely repaired in time to make the start of the rally.

Lebanese driver Roger Feghali and his Italian co-driver Nicola Arena have not had an easy time of it today, spinning on each of the first three stages - albeit in company with many other crews throughout the field! His recce time had been reduced while sorting out a problem with his entry visa for Germany and that has seriously affected his ability to adjust to a new event.

Norway's Alexander Foss and Cato Menkerud are tackling their first WRC season and so are continuing to treat their events as a learning exercise.

"I had a spin this morning and frustratingly stalled the engine," he said. "I'm really more used to snow events in Norway than asphalt rallies here. It's just lack of experience." He slid off the road into a vineyard after mishearing a pace note on SS6 but the car only suffered cosmetic damage.

Chris Birkbeck, whose team runs both Duval and Foss, reflected: "After his early misfire, Francois has driven solidly today but he's probably still getting used to the Ford Puma after his recent drives in the Focus WRC. Alexander has again enjoyed a steep learning curve on only his second asphalt rally but I'm happy with his progress in difficult conditions."

News from Ford's 'Junior' rivals:

Today's four JWRC retirements all came in the first trio of stages. Welshman Gwyndaf Evans was the first to go, his MG ZR sidelined with electronic problems on the road section before SS2.

Austrian David Doppelreiter's Peugeot 206 went off on the next stage while Norway's Martin Stenshorne had to abandon the contest on the road section after SS3 when the engine of his Opel Corsa overheated following accident damage on the previous stage.

The driver worst affected over the first trio of stages was Gianluigi Galli whose Fiat damaged its rear brakes and left the Italian driver to limp through two stages before service where the team withdrew the ailing car.

Early leader Andrea Dallavilla (Italy) dropped well down the order after puncturing a front wheel on SS3, the Citroen Saxo arriving at the finish on just the wheel rim, handing the lead to Ulsterman Niall McShea. A transmission problem slowed Spain's Albert Llovera's Fiat Punto on SS3 while the similar car of Italy's Christian Chemin damaged its steering on SS2 as many crews discovered how slippery the roads have been.

Tomorrow's Route:

Following today's eight stages through the Mosel region vineyards, the character of the event changes completely for tomorrow. The crews tackle another eight stages but this time, instead of driving between the vines, they must face the daunting roads of the Baumholder military ranges where tanks have left the concrete roads broken in places.

Precision driving is essential as the edges of the roads are marked with 'hinkelsteins', stone blocks that can rip tyres to shreds and tear suspension off a car in seconds. The stages comprise 164.44kms with the leg starting at 0730 and finishing at 2144 (all times are for the first car on the road - JWRC crews are running approximately 30 mins later).

JWRC leaderboard after Leg 1:

1.Niall McSheaOpel Corsa Super 16001hour 23mins 53.2secs 2.Sven HaafCitroen Saxo Super 1600+00mins 09.4secs3.Francois DuvalFord Puma Super 1600+00mins 23.8secs4.Daniel SolaCitroen Saxo Super 1600+00mins 26.4secs5.Martin RoweFord Puma Super 1600+01mins 22.1secs6.Nikolaus SchelleSuzuki Ignis Super 1600+01mins 33.4secs