As the scorching sunlight beat down on the spectators lining the Funchal seafront, Kris Meeke sprinted his way to victory in the opening stage of Rally Madeira, with Peugeot team-mate Bruno Magalhaes backing him up three tenths behind.

“This event was completely new to me last year, I was favourably impressed but I couldn't manage any better than fifth overall,” Meeke said before the start of the rally. “We did not choose the best gear ratios and this year we will not be caught out a second time, and I have every intention of fighting for a win this weekend.”

And fight he did, taking crucial tenths out of his rivals in the very short 2.2km test on Thursday. Behind Magalhaes were the Skodas – Jan Kopecky four tenths up on team-mate and championship leader Juho Hanninen, who in turn had 1.2 second advantage over 5th placed Luca Rossetti.

Freddy Loix was also back in action – this time for Skoda – and was 2.5 seconds off the pace, still suffering from an injured left shoulder. Behind him was Portuguese native Bernardo Sousa, a further 0.6 seconds behind.

Corrado Fontana holds the final points position in 8th, but is more interested in beating his European Rally Championship rivals – which include Rossetti and Kopecky.

Standings after SS1

Pos Driver Car Time
1. Kris Meeke Peugeot 207 1:37.2
2. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot 207 +0.3
3. Jan Kopecky Skoda Fabia +0.7
4. Juho Hanninen Skoda Fabia +1.1
5. Luca Rossetti Fiat Punto Abarth +2.3
6. Freddy Loix Skoda Fabia +2.5
7. Bernardo Sousa Ford Fiesta +3.1
8. Corrado Fontana Peugeot 207 +3.7