Gap, France: World champion Sebastien Ogier powered his Citroen into a narrow lead on the Monte-Carlo Rally on Friday with Belgian Thierry Neuville just two seconds back in a Hyundai, kicking himself for a costly late error.
Monte-Carlo is the first date on the 2019 calendar and features six-time world champion Ogier and veteran compatriot Sebastien Loeb, who has nine world titles.
However, Loeb, in a Hyundai, was down in fifth place on Friday evening, one minute and 25sec off the pace as he sees Ogier target equalling his record of seven wins on the storied Monte-Carlo race.
Andreas Mikkelsen, in another Hyundai, was third at 1min 17sec.
Estonia's Ott Tanak, behind the wheel of a Toyota, mastered the icy conditions on the opening day but slipped to seventh overall Friday at 2min 34sec off the lead.
Having timed fastest during the fifth and sixth special, Ogier took the lead during the penultimate run as the race climbed into the low Alps on a fast, technically challenging course over narrow, hilly roads.
Belgian ace Neuville slipped out of the lead, losing up to 20 seconds when overshooting the first corner and despite a powerful showing thereafter admitted later he had chosen the wrong tyres.
"I turned, but the car didn't," Neuville said after starting on studded tyres to deal with a thin layer of packed snow.