Sébastien Ogier completed a clean sweep of wins in Friday's opening leg speed tests at the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse to build a strong lead in pursuit of his fourth world drivers' title.
He won all four twisty and bumpy asphalt special stages on the Mediterranean island in a Volkswagen Polo R, completing the first of three days' competition with a 44.0sec lead over Thierry Neuville's Hyundai i20 after almost 160km of action.
Kiwis Hayden Paddon and John Kennard are in sixth position on the leader-board. Competing in round 10 of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the pair were in fifth overall after the morning's two special stages despite having to contend with slight issues with their pace notes. Two punctures on the afternoon's repeated loop added to the challenges as the pair continued to work on developing their pace on this iconic tarmac rally. Just 7.5 seconds separates Paddon and fifth-placed Craig Breen.
"I'm definitely feeling more comfortable on these Corsican stages in the dry conditions we have had today," Paddon says. "It's not been a perfect day but we can see some positives, as well as some places to improve. We needed some adjustments to our pace notes after the opening run. The car was sliding around too much but we found a better direction for the repeat loop. It was a case of building things up step by step. We were doing precisely that but we had a puncture 8km from the end of the final stage, which lost us a bit of time. We'll just work to take the positives from today forward into the rest of the weekend and see if we can break into the top-five."
Rain is forecast for Saturday, which sees crews tackle another four stages on the island of Corsica.
Under clear skies and in high temperatures which demanded skilful tyre and brake management, Ogier showed a degree of caution but still opened a 14.7sec lead in this morning's two stages in the mountains near Ajaccio. Victory in both tests when they were repeated put the Frenchman into a dominant position.
"We made no mistakes, a tough but enjoyable day," he said. "I really enjoyed the beautiful stages and beautiful weather. Everything was there to enjoy a good rally day."
Handling problems frustrated Neuville this morning. With the balance improved this afternoon, the Belgian was happier, despite overheating his tyres in the final speed test after attacking too hard.
Jari-Matti Latvala filled the final podium place in a Polo R, 14.0sec behind Neuville. A mix of set-up issues and an over-cautious approach left the Finn in seventh midway through the leg, but a much-improved afternoon catapulted him into third.
His advantage over fourth-placed team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen was 1.3sec. The Norwegian's problems were mainly physical - his left foot 'going to sleep' due to a vibration feeding back through his Polo R's brake pedal.
Ogier's closest challenger this morning was Kris Meeke. The Ulsterman held second until a puncture early in the penultimate stage required him to stop and change it and he ended in 11th.
After overnighting in Bastia, drivers face another 169.04km of bumpy mountain roads tomorrow, comprising two identical loops of two stages in the north of the island.