Giandomenico Basso kicked off the start of the European Rally Championship with the fastest time on the qualifying stage of Rally di Roma.
The 2019 event winner, competing in a Volkswagen Polo R5 for the first time, posted a time of 2m11.350s on the 2.6-mile Fumone stage, beating two-time champion Alexey Lukyanuk by just under four-tenths of a second.
With the road order determined by car numbers, Basso was the first to take to the stage, with double champion Lukyanuk, alongside new-for-2020 co-driver Dmitry Eremeev, following behind in his Saintéloc-run Citroën C3 R5.
The stage, which will also be used for shakedown later on Friday, was run with one-minute gaps between the cars, meaning the action was thick and fast.
Andrea Crugnola, who won 13 stages on the event last year, was third quickest in his FPF Sport Citroën C5 R5 with a time of 2m12.473s, just 1.123 seconds off the pace of Basso.
Behind Crugnola was the Volkswagen Polo of Oliver Solberg, who avoided disqualification from the event following a pre-event testing violation.
The Swede was just six-hundredths of a second off Crugnola and nine-tenths ahead of fellow WRC2 regular Emil Lindholm’s Škoda Fabia R5 despite having “stalled a bit at the start and then completely missed the first corner”.
Callum Devine finished the stage with the eighth-fastest time in his Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy Hyundai i20 R5, ahead of Craig Breen in the Team MRF i20.
M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux rounded out the top 10 on his maiden ERC outing in his Ford Fiesta R5, setting an equal time with Norbert Herczig’s Volkswagen Polo, while Marijan Griebel was the biggest name to miss out on the top 15 and will start 16th on the road ahead of Saturday’s opening loop.
Missing from the qualifying stage was reigning ERC1 Junior Champion Filip Mareš and co-driver Radovan Bucha, who rolled in the second free practice run. The Czech duo failed to make it out for the qualifying run in their Škoda Fabia R5 after the incident.
The top 15 crews from the qualifying stage will convene in Rome this afternoon to select their road position for the start of the rally proper on Saturday, with the quickest runners expected to choose an early slot for optimum road conditions.
In ERC3, Santéloc Junior Team’s Miika Hokkanen and co-driver Rami Suorsa gave the new Peugeot 208 Rally4 the perfect competitive debut by setting the fastest time.
The Finnish duo went almost a second quicker than the Portuguese partnership of Pedro Antunes/Pedro Alves – who suffered a puncture in practice – in a similar 208.
Dennis Rådström was third fastest in his privately entered Ford Fiesta Rally4, some 1.174s adrift, while Josep Bassas was fourth in another Peugeot 208 Rally4.
Elsewhere, Dariusz Polónski suffered a broken handbrake in his Abarth 124 but still finished second in ERC2 to Andrea Mabellini on the stage.
Road order selection for the ERC1 crews will take place on Friday afternoon following another pass of Fumone for shakedown, with the first of Saturday’s competitive stages scheduled for 08:13 BST (03:13 ET).