Ford World Rally Team driver Mikko Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen settled into third after this morning's opening loop of Rally de Espaņa in their Focus RS World Rally Car.
The Finns, who lead the drivers' standings in the FIA World Rally Championship by five points,
have their sights set on a podium finish on their least-favoured asphalt surface and were satisfied with their start.
This penultimate round of the 12-event series offers drivers only the second opportunity of the season to sample asphalt roads. The speed tests near the rally base of Salou, south of Barcelona, are fast and flowing and similar to a race circuit in their characteristics.
Drivers face two identical loops of three asphalt special stages north of Salou covering 131.76km. Overnight rain cleared to leave clear skies and bright sunshine, but damp patches lingered in the shaded areas.
Hirvonen was second on the opening 20.48km La Mussara before finishing third in both the 21.26km Querol and the 24.14km El Montmell, to return to service 19.1sec from the lead.
"This is a better start than last year and I was especially pleased with my time on the first stage. I thought it would be dry but a lot of the test was damp so it was tricky. Fortunately it was dry at the start so I managed to get some heat into the tyres before the wet parts.
On the last stage I had good grip but the car understeered in the corners so we'll have a look in service and see what we can do," said 29-year-old Hirvonen.
Ford teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila lie sixth in another Focus RS WRC, but Latvala was less happy with his morning's work. He was fifth in La Mussara and sixth in the next two stages to return to the Salou service park exactly one minute from the lead.
"I've not so driven so well," admitted 24-year-old Latvala. "I'm not driving like I did on the test last week and I seem to have lost my feeling for asphalt. Conditions were demanding with both wet and dry roads and I didn't have the right feel for the changing grip. It should be dry this afternoon so the grip should be more consistent. The rear brakes locked in tight corners and I want the car to be soft at the rear so we will change the rear anti-roll bar in service."
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr are 12th in the team's other Focus RS WRC.