Loutraki, Greece - Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala, who missed the last round of the world championship after a cross-country skiing accident, set the pace on the opening day of the Acropolis Rally on Thursday.
The Finn was ruled out of the Rally of Argentina because of his injury, but he made up for lost time in Athens, piloting his Ford Fiesta to a 2.8 second lead over eight-time world champion Sebastien Loeb in a Citroen.
Mikko Hirvonen, in the second factory Citroen, was 7.1 off the lead.
"I was equal with Loeb but at the end I seemed to pull out some time at the hairpins," said Latvala. "I felt really fast in places."
Loeb went into the rally having won three races this season and with an 18-point lead over Norway's Ford Focus driver Petter Solberg.
"In some places there is a lot of grip, some places no grip, so it is difficult to understand where you can push and where you have to be careful," admitted the Frenchman.
Solberg blamed his failure to win the stage on his decision to run soft compound tyres on his Fiesta rather than the hard option chosen by his rivals.
The Norwegian's tyres lost considerable grip by the end of the run, which he completed with the fifth fastest time, 14.6 slower than Latvala.
"It was my decision and I believed in it," said Solberg. "I thought it could have been colder, it was just a mistake and I should have listened to the team. Okay that's how it is and we learn from that. We are not out of it."
Opening stage results:
1. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN/Ford Fiesta RS) 17:38.0
2. Sebastien Loeb (FRA/Citröen DS3) at 2.8
3. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN/Citröen DS3) 7.1
4. Mads Ostberg (NOR/Ford Fiesta RS) 13.7
5. Petter Solberg (NOR/Ford Fiesta RS) 14.6
6. Evgeny Novikov (RUS/Ford Fiesta RS) 20.4
7. Ott Tänak (EST/Ford Fiesta RS) 36.3
8. Martin Prokop (CZE/Ford Fiesta RS) 37.4
9. Thierry Neuville (BEL/Citröen DS3) 37.8
10. Sébastien Ogier (FRA/Skoda Fabia S2000) 41.8
11. Nasser Al Attiyah (QAT/Citröen DS3) 53.6