Elfyn Evans' bid to overhaul Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier in the season finale of the World Rally Championship got off to a blistering start on and around the Italian race track of Monza on Friday.
Welshman Evans leads the rally from Ogier by 1.4sec after an eventful day concluded with a nervy nighttime final special raced in the dark, with two full days of racing to come.
Frenchman Ogier brought a healthy 17-point lead to Monza. With a maximum of 30 points still in play, he must finish ahead of his rival or score at least 13 points.
Seven-time world champion Ogier began the day strongly in the mountain specials, while Evans did better on the circuit with its tight chicanes.
Despite a pulsating session Evans admitted discomfort on the asphalt, which includes the Grand Prix race track and the old banked circuit.
"It's not really nice in the dark. And it's tough on the chicanes on cold tyres," he said.
Ogier, on track for an eighth title if he can hold his nerve, was more optimistic.
"It's been a good start to the rally. I think we had a good drive in the mountains," said Ogier.
"This afternoon I didn't take any risks in there with the chicanes, but it's all good."
There are a total of 16 specials with six more on Saturday and three on Sunday.
The action gets underway with three specials in the mountains Saturday morning, with more fog expected afer Ogier thrived in it Friday.
Three more specials are scheduled on the track in the afternoon session.
There is an element of deja vu about the climax of the season. A year ago, Ogier also went head to head with Evans in Monza for the crown.
On that occasion, the force was with Evans who took a 14-point lead into the race. However, he lost his chance when he slid off the road on the icy and slushy surface, leaving the way open for Ogier to win the rally and the title.