Thierry Neuville made the perfect return to his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC at Rally di Alba on Sunday morning.
The Belgian leads the RA Plus event designed specifically for Rally1 cars by 7.1 seconds from team-mate Ott Tänak.
Pierre-Louis Loubet sits third, 15.5s off the front.
Neuville arrived back in service after the opening loop of three stages happy to be back in the car.
“When you go from the start and in the stage, I realise how much I have missed this. It’s the other stuff around the outside I don’t miss so much,” he told DirtFish.
“It’s been a good loop though, no problems. The road will get very dirty for the second loop, but in some ways that’s good and that’s going to give us more data – that’s why we are here.”
Tänak was firmly focused on debriefing with his engineers after his first competitive loop in a full asphalt-spec i20.
The world champion requested a gearbox change in an effort to further understand the range of settings available for asphalt.
Tänak, who was fastest on the second stage, told DirtFish: “It’s all going to plan. The roads are nice and we’re learning a lot about the car – that’s good.”
Loubet continued a learning process he began on his i20 Coupe WRC debut in Rome last week.
The Frenchman’s only issue was not being aggressive enough on the handbrake on the second stage.
“It was my mistake,” he said.
“The road was a little bit damp in a hairpin and I didn’t pull the handbrake hard enough and we got understeer.
“Apart from this, I’m happy the times are good compared to the others [Neuville and Tänak] – I think they are pushing a little bit.”
Two-time Italy WRC champion Luca Pedersoli made it four i20s in the top four. His only issue was coming to terms with the Rally1 hardware beneath him.
“I only did 30 kilometers of testing before the start,” he said.
“It’s taking time to trust and to believe in the aero. I’m quite happy with the times when I have done nothing in the car before now.
“I’m not going to make any changes to the car. What could I change? What do I know? I don’t know enough to make a change and I don’t like the sort of people who say they are making changes to sound like they know what they’re talking about. That’s not me.”
Craig Breen clearly knows what he’s talking about. The Irishman’s DirtFish liveried BRC-run i20 R5 is leading the Rally di Alba proper.
Breen was fastest on the first two of three stages, building a lead of 6.1s over fellow Hyundai man Jari Huttunen.
Luca Rossetti and Dani Sordo (pictured above) are third and fourth, with Sordo 9.6s behind Breen.
“I love it here in Italy,” said leader Breen. “It’s been really good to get back in the car so soon after Rome [last weekend’s Rally di Roma, on which Breen finished fourth].
“No problems at all this morning, maybe I could have made the car a little bit more racey, but we’ll not be doing that in the second loop. It’ll get very dirty.
“There’s a bit of a fight on with the other boys out there in R5, but it’s good – Italy’s like that: it always steps up the competition a bit.
“I think it’s those DirtFish stickers that are helping this morning, maybe we’ll need to throw a few more of those on this afternoon!”
Sordo’s transition from i20 Coupe WRC to i20 R5 required patience on Sunday morning.
“It does take time and I didn’t really have any time,” said Sordo.
“The competition is close, but, you know, I don’t think I have anything to prove here.”
Rally di Alba continues with a repeat of Sunday morning’s three stages to the east of Cuneo.