Kris Meeke has dominated the opening day of the Curitiba Rally in Brazil after a clean sweep of stage wins on the first leg of the latest round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.

The Peugeot UK driver didn't put a foot wrong as he led the way on all seven stages to ensure he made it back to parc ferme at the end of the day with a lead approaching the 50 second mark.

For Meeke, it was the ideal way to kick-start the event after his disappointing retirement in Monte Carlo, and he admitted he was hoping for rain to help protect his lead on Saturday's second leg.

"It's been the perfect day for me," he said. "I've really enjoyed myself driving this car over these fantastic roads. I have to say that this is one of the best rallies I have ever driven on. It's amazing how when you have a good feeling with the car, everything just comes easily.

"The contrast with Monte Carlo could not be greater: I think Monte Carlo was the most difficult rally I have ever done. Here, I'm feeling very confident. But tomorrow is sure to be a much more difficult day than today. I'm going to be first on the road and that means I'll definitely lose time.

"It's going to be hard to set fastest times tomorrow but if we can look after the margin that we have, then that's obviously a great result. If it rains that should help us too, so I'm going to do a rain dance tonight!"

While the contest for the lead was clear cut, the battle for second place was much closer. On the final stage of the day, factory Abarth Grande Punto driver Giandomenico Basso got past the Peugeot Belgium 207 S2000 of Nicolas Vouilloz, concluding a battle that had lasted throughout the afternoon.

Both drivers enjoyed a clean run throughout the day with no major problems, but in the end it was Basso who overhauled the reigning IRC champion to hold second at the end of the day; the pair split by just 0.3 seconds

"It's been a good day, where we've had no problems, and it's nice to end it with an exciting battle like we had with Nicolas this afternoon," he said. "I wasn't so comfortable with the car on the first stage of the afternoon loop, but we were able to push progressively harder towards the end of it and set some good times. Tomorrow though I think will be a lot more tricky: the route is a lot more technical and also narrower, so there is a bigger risk of punctures and getting into trouble. So far we've managed to avoid that, so hopefully we can keep it this way tomorrow."

In fourth place at the end of day one was Argentinean driver Alejandro Cancio, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution for the Tango Rally Team. Cancio was never out of the top six and endedd the day with a third-fastest time on the final stage.

Peugeot Belgium's Freddy Loix, who finished second in Monte Carlo, was first on the road and had the unenviable task of sweeping it clean for all the following competitors. He lost time as a result and ended up in a fifth place overall, 18 seconds behind Cancio.

Victor Galeano holds sixth ahead of the top Brazilian driver Oswaldo Scheer, while another Brazilian, Paulo Nobre, rounds out the points-scoring places in eighth.

The flat-out Brazilian gravel roads claimed a couple of high-profile victims on the opening day.

Factory Abarth driver Anton Alen had an impact with a rock on a first gear corner towards the end of SS3, which punctured his rear-left tyre and also broke a suspension joint. The Finn - who had been running in a strong second place - was forced to make emergency repairs by the roadside, and then lost time driving slowly through the following stage. Once back at service, the Abarth mechanics restored the car to full health and Alen was able to continue at his previous pace, setting second-fastest time on the final stage of the day.

Argentinean driver Marcos Ligato was running in fifth place until SS4, when he picked up a puncture that he didn't stop to change. Unfortunately the flailing rubber damaged his Mitsubishi's radiator, and although he got to the end of the stage with not much time lost, the damage inflicted proved to be terminal.

The IRC 2WD Cup is led by local driver Rafael Tulio in a Peugeot 206 S1600. His compatriot Luis Tedesco is second, just over a minute behind in a Fiat Palio S1600. Another Brazilian, Peugeot's Marcos Tokarski, lies third.



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