On his first rally for Team Winfield Mitsubishi Ralliart, Auriol has leapt straight into the top six, despite only one day's testing in the Lancer Evolution III beforehand.
"I'm pleased to be in a good position on my return to driving and in a car I don't know very well. I can't fault the car at all. I didn't feel at home in it for the first two stages, but since I made some small changes, it has been very good," said Auriol.
Team Winfield Mitsubishi Ralliart management has let him learn the car at his own pace, well aware that his main aim is to score points for the World Championship for Manufacturers. Auriol found the Lancer Evolution III easy to drive once he had stiffened the suspension this morning and has benefitted from Mitsubishi's close relationship with Michelin.
In the Group N production category, Uruguay's Gustavo Trelles has taken a commanding lead in his Lancer Evolution III, which could put him in a good position to take the World Group N Championship.
It was a disappointing day for new World Champion Tommi Makinen. The Finnish star crashed his Lancer Evolution III on the first stage of the rally and his co-driver, Seppo Harjanne, was taken to hospital after complaining that he had injured his back.
Germany's Uwe Nittel, the Group N leader in the early stages, has retired from the Rally in Ralliart Germany's Lancer Evolution III after leaving the road on stage 4.
Colin McRae, the 1995 World Champion, holds a narrow lead after the first leg in his Subaru, battling his way past team-mate Piero Liatti and Italian sensation Andrea Dallavilla, who led in the early stages.
93 left Gubbio this morning, but the first stage of the rally had to be cancelled, following the accidents of Makinen and fellow Finn Jarmo Kytolehto.
As usual, the loose-surface roads of central Italy have been covered in a fine layer of gravel that hampers the first few cars and allows the young chargers further down the field to make their mark. Warm, dry conditions have placed a premium on correct tyre choice.
After an overnight halt in Arezzo, crews will attempt seven stages in Tuscany tomorrow, totalling 130 kilometres, before the long drive back to Sanremo and the asphalt stages that may well decide the rally.
|1. C. McRAE/D. RINGER||GB/GB||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||1.32.47||2. P. LIATTI/F. PONS||I/I||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||+ 0.04|
|3. A. DALLAVILLA/D. FAPPANI||I/I||TOYOTA CELICA||+ 0.19|
|4. G. PIANEZZOLA/L. ROGGIA||I/I||TOYOTA CELICA||+ 0.24|
|5. D. AURIOL/D. GIRAUDET||F/F||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||+ 0.37|
|6. K. ERIKSSON/S. PARMANDER||S/S||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||+ 0.38|
|7. B. THIRY/S. PREVOT||B/B||FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH||+ 0.40|
|8. C. SAINZ/L. MOYA||E/E||FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH||+ 0.44|
|8. G. CUNICO/P. SCALVINI||I/I||FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH||+ 0.44|
|10.A. MEDEGHINI/"MEDEGHINI"||I/I||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||+ 1.23|