Juho Hanninen has taken an early lead on Rally Azores after the opening three stages this evening.

It was Skoda UK's Andreas Mikkelsen who won the opening stage, but the Norwegian driver suffered power steering failure on his Fabia towards the end of SS2, dropping him to second overall behind Skoda Motorsport driver Hanninen.

Mikkelsen then lost a further five seconds to Hanninen on SS3, a 2km superspecial, meaning he has slipped to third overall behind defending Azores champion Bruno Magalhaes. Magalhaes lies 4.3 seconds behind Hanninen in his Peugeot Sport Portugal 207.

Hanninen's factory Skoda teammate Jan Kopecky is in fourth place, after jumping ahead of both Patrik Sandell and Guy Wilks on SS2. Skoda Sweden entry Sandell remains fifth, while Wilks dropped time to ensure a better road position for tomorrow. He is seventh, behind local Mitsubishi driver Ricardo Moura, who leads the Production Cup category.

Bryan Bouffier is down in eighth after struggling with running first on the road in his Peugeot France entered car. The Monte Carlo winner has switched from being run by PH Sport to the German ROMO operation for this rally.

Vitor Lopes is ninth in his Subaru, passing Toshi Arai in the superspecial after the Japanese driver spun his R4-spec Impreza. French driver Julien Maurin failed to make the end of SS2 in his Ford Fiesta S2000, after being eighth quickest through the opening test.

Portuguese driver Paulo Maciel leads the way in the 2WD Cup in his Citroen Saxo in 16th overall, one place ahead of defending champion Harry Hunt.

Top ten standings after SS3:

Pos. No Driver Team Car Time/Gap
1 2 Juho Hanninen Skoda Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 17:07.4
2 8 Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot Portugal Peugeot 207 S2000 +4.3
3 5 Andreas Mikkelsen Skoda UK Skoda Fabia S2000 +5.7
4 3 Jan Kopecky Skoda Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +10.6
5 6 Patrik Sandell Skoda Sweden Skoda Fabia S2000 +20.5
6 9 Ricardo Moura Privateer Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +28.1
7 4 Guy Wilks Peugeot UK Peugeot 207 S2000 +29.3
8 1 Bryan Bouffier Peugeot France Peugeot 207 S2000 +36.3
9 15 Vitor Lopes Privateer Subaru Impreza Sti +47.0
10 7 Toshi Arai Team Arai Subaru Impreza R4 +56.2