Thierry Neuville set the pace by an impressive 1.4 seconds over Kalle Rovanperä on the Central European Rally shakedown stage.
CER is an all-new rally but also a brand-new concept in the World Rally Championship, with three separate countries hosting stages throughout the weekend.
Thursday and Friday’s action is in the Czech Republic, with Saturday held in Austria before Sunday’s final leg returns to the rally’s base in Germany.
The 2.25-mile Tittling stage was held just north of the service park in Passau, but was interrupted after just four cars had gone through due to a nearby road traffic accident which required the use of the emergency services.
Rovanperä, Elfyn Evans, Neuville and Ott Tänak were the ones to set a time before the pause to proceedings, and ironically Neuville’s first benchmark time, a 1m57.5s, ended up being the quickest.
“It looks interesting out there to be honest,” Neuville said of the stages which the crews are all experiencing for the first time.
“The stages look good – challenging of course but exactly what I like. After so many gravel rallies to jump in the car and get the feeling now isn’t so easy. My test wasn’t great so I have some work to do tonight [on the setup of the car].”
Rovanperä starts the penultimate round of the season with a very realistic chance of claiming his second world title, needing simply to outscore his team-mate Evans to do so.
He was 0.8s up on his title rival through shakedown, with Tänak’s M-Sport Ford sandwiching the pair just a tenth down on Rovanperä.
“I think this week is going to be quite tough overall,” Rovanperä admitted. “Lots of roads, different styles, each day is different so a lot of work on the pacenotes. Let’s hope it goes well.”
Esapekka Lappi completed the top five for Hyundai, 2.8s down on his pace-setting team-mate but 0.3s clear of Sébastien Ogier who returns to the WRC after missing the last round in Chile.
Takamoto Katsuta was seventh, another 0.3s shy of Ogier, while Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen, M-Sport Ford’s Pierre-Louis Loubet – who is competing with Benjamin Veillas for the first time – and Grégoire Munster completed the Rally1 runners.
The WRC2 title could also potentially be decided this weekend, with Andreas Mikkelsen the favorite to win given his points advantage and insurance policy of heading to Japan should he need to.
But it was Citroën pilot Yohan Rossel who was quickest by 0.8s over Adrien Fourmaux, who is debuting an updated Ford Fiesta Rally2 with a revised cooling package this weekend.
The other title contender, Gus Greensmith, was third with Mikkelsen slotting in fourth.