For former Grand Prix driver Erik Comas, tonight's opening stage of the Telstra Rally Australia was the perfect way to ease himself into his World Rally Championship debut.

The mid-city, super-special stage -- on a purpose-built track in a downtown Perth park -- was "a nice transition for me: It's like a mix of circuit racing and rallying.

"The setting is like the ice racing I've done in France. It was fun -- and it was nice. It was two minutes of rush time."

The 35-year-old found one new challenge even before the start -- when he was interviewed for the Australian television coverage on the startline....with less than 30 seconds to the green light: "I'm not used to that!"

Comas and his navigator Jean Paul Terrasse clocked 1m 43s in their Loctite Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 for the 2.2km Langley Park layout to take 44th place overall and 18th place in the Group N production car class.

The former Ligier and Larrousse Formula One driver -- a titleholder in motor racing classes as diverse as Formula 3000, touring cars, Formula 3 and the Japanese GT championship -- says he's living out a dream by taking part in a WRC event.

And he isn't taking the challenge of Rally Australia lightly: "Tomorrow will be real rallying," he predicted.

And since this is not only his first taste of world championship rallying, but also only his fifth rally and his first drive in a new car he only got to test for 30 minutes before tonight, intends to be conservative in tomorrow's nine stages.

He respects the difficulties of the West Australian roads: "At times it's like snow -- with the stones like ball-bearings, making it very slippery.

"But after many cars have run on it, the road changes. It's not consistent though -- and that's the tricky part.

"I do believe there are some stages where I can drive pretty fast -- and some where I have to be far under the limit -- otherwise you can crash so easily."

There are in the whole rally, Comas reckons, probably only 12 corners "where you could go off without hitting something. In some places the road is quite wide -- and I like that. In others, it is very narrow and the trees are very close to the road.

"It's a bit like Monaco in Formula One. Luckily I liked Monaco.

"My last experience in motorsport in Australia was driving in the Adelaide Grand Prix. That's not going to help me much here!"