Making his debut in a World Rally Car after only 50 km of tarmac practice, Jarkko Nikara immediately showed his potential in the MINI John Cooper Works WRC by setting three top ten stage times in a world class field this morning, ending the day in 8th position overall.
The Finnish driver was 8th, 9th and then 7th fastest on stages one, two and three respectively, as he made the most of his early start position and the soft compound Michelin tyres.
Rain fell far earlier and much heavier than anyone had expected, meaning the gravel stages cut up as each car passed.
Although the car was undamaged, he was too far down a slope to reverse back on to the stage and will now return tomorrow under Rally 2. At this point he was lying in 6th position.
The first two stages in the afternoon were a repeat of the long morning stages.
As conditions worsened, Nikara took them more cautiously, but late on stage five he suffered a puncture and the further misfortune of the car falling off the jack while changing the wheel.
This cost him around four minutes and dropped him from sixth to tenth place.
Dave Wilcock, Prodrive WRC Team principal, said: "Clearly no one predicted the conditions we got today, otherwise the top drivers would have led the field away this morning.
When the unexpected heavy rain came, we initially thought we'd made the wrong tyre choice for Dani with all hards, but to be honest, I don't think it made any difference. Instead, we were able to benefit from our earlier start position.
Jarkko very sensibly took soft tyres to be more conservative as he was sweeping the road, and drove very rapidly but maturely to set some very impressive times, even beating Dani on stage one.
"Ironically, just before the start of stage three, Dani and I had talked about just how slippery the section was where he eventually went off.
Tomorrow the aim is for Dani to push for fast stage times and for Jarkko to continue to learn the MINI and particularly its tarmac performance.
If he can perform like he did today, he can easily maintain his position in the top ten, which would be an exceptional result on his debut."
Jarkko Nikara said: "It was not the best conditions to be in your first WRC car, but I think we had quite a good starting position.
This afternoon the stages were more difficult with standing water in the ruts, but I tried to keep the same pace and same rhythm, but we hit a rock damaging the rim, deflating the tyre, which is a real shame.
Still I am very excited about tomorrow, I do have more experience on gravel, but I still like tarmac and we will have to see if we can be as quick."