Thierry Neuville topped the times on SS1 of the 38. YPF Rally Argentina 2018 as the FIA World Rally Championship competitors took on the 1.90km stage in the town centre of Villa Carlos Paz.
Marco Bulacia Wilkinson got the proceedings under way with a time of 2:11.6 in his Ford Fiesta R5, the Bolivian narrowly avoided an incident as he lost control over the jump at the finish of the stage.
It was the usual suspects that dominated the WRC2 class with Kalle Rovanperä finishing the fastest in his Škoda Fabia R5 with a time of 1:57.5, Ole Christian Veiby came across the line in second place with Pontus Tidemand in third.
British driver Gus Greensmith finished just outside the top three, but faster overall that Khalid Al-Qassimi on his WRC return; The Emirati struggled a little on the opening stage in his first WRC start since Wales Rally GB last year.
As the WRC competitors took the to track, the crowds cheered on and Thierry Neuville made the most of the opportunity to finish fastest, just 0.3 seconds infront of Ott Tänak, with Sébastien Ogier in close chase just one tenth of a second further back.
“It’s great to start the rally like this. There were a lot of spectators and it was a great atmosphere.” said Neuville.
Tanak was in a confident mood as he looked ahead to the rally, “I think this could be a winning car this weekend! We came through shakedown with a good feeling in the car, we just need a good rest tonight because I know it is going to be a tough weekend.”
Andreas Mikkelsen showed his pace but understeer through the roundabouts and mounting the kerb on one section saw him finish one tenth of a second behind Ogier.
Kris Meeke was suprised to finished fifth fastest after admitting it wasn’t the cleanest run through the stage, “I said to Paul (co-driver Nagle) crossing the finish line I thought I would be the slowest. I made a few mistakes, missing my braking at the first corner and messing up a roundabout,”
“This stage is nothing to do with the rally! The gravel was slippery, really slippery, there was no grip!” said Esapekka Lappi, who was the fastest Finnish driver, finishing sixth in his Toyota Yaris WRC, ahead of fellow countryman Teemu Suninen.
Dani Sordo set the eighth fastest time ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala and the returning Craig Breen, who despite finishin the session tenth will receive a ten second penalty for checking out late at the time control before the stage.
Elfyn Evans finished the stage in eleventh place, with just 2.2 seconds covering the top eleven drivers.