(Reuters) - Six-times world champion Sebastien Ogier started as he meant to continue by winning the opening 4.33km stage at the title-deciding Monza Rally on Thursday.
The Frenchman is 14 points behind championship-leading Toyota team mate Elfyn Evans after six rounds of a COVID-19 ravaged season.
"I need to win, so I need to give everything. The conditions will still play a big part so we have to be good," said the Frenchman.
Hyundai's Thierry Neuville and reigning champion Ott Tanak also remain in contention mathematically, the Belgian 24 points off the lead and the Estonian 28 behind Evans with a maximum 30 to play for.
Neuville was half a second behind Ogier after stage one with Tanak a further 1.5 adrift and Evans fourth with another 0.7 to make up.
"I was a bit careful and we’re going to have to go quicker than that during the weekend. It was key to get through this one," said Evans, who would be the third British world rally champion if he prevails on Sunday.
The rally is held at the Monza circuit near Milan and in the foothills of the Alps around Lake Como.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ed Osmond)