Lemes leads the category by 44 seconds, having won four of the day’s six stages in front of his home fans. Behind him, Dutchman Hans Weijs Jr heads up the Junior title race after the gravel section of the event.
Lemes admitted he was delighted with his day’s sport, saying: “We haven’t really had any big problems at all today. The car has run well. We lost the brakes in the long stage in the asphalt section, but they came back and we haven’t had any problems with them since.”
Despite losing the brakes, Lemes was still fastest through the 35-kilometre Terra Alta test by 13 seconds. Fired up by his lack of stopping power in SS1, the Renault driver took a second per kilometre out of the rest of the field in the second test.
Weijs Jr won the third stage, the Citroen driver collecting fastest times at both runs through the Les Garrigues test. Weijs Jr’s morning was complicated by the gearshifter in his C2, which broke on the opening stage.
“I had to use the other side of the gearshift,” he said. “The problem with this is that you pull towards you to go up the box and push it to go down. When I had to use the other side of the shift, it’s the other way around. I was really worried that if I got it wrong on an upshift, I could blow the engine.”
That problem was fixed in service, but for the first two stages through the afternoon, he still had no answer for Lemes’ pace.
“The afternoon was very good,” said the day one leader. “We had one spin this afternoon, but nothing else. Now we have to watch for Weijs tomorrow. He won in Germany and he can be fast here. Being honest, I just want to finish; my results in Juniors this year have not been so good: Portugal day two, out; Bulgaria day two, out; Germany day two, out; France day one, out. We want to finish here, if we’re second it’s okay.”
Weijs Jr on the other hand wants to win to give himself the best possible chance of the title. The man who can stop him is just 34.5 seconds behind him: Aaron Burkart.
The German driver struggled through the morning with a brake problem. He lost the brakes in the middle of the long opening stage in what turned out to be an overheating issue.
“The pedal went long,” he said. “It was not so nice for the confidence to have a problem with the brakes. The team changed everything at service and it was better this afternoon. We almost spun in the last stage - it was good for the spectators. My plan was to be ahead tonight, this hasn’t happened, so tomorrow we will have to fight again and see what we can do.”
Bulgarian Todor Slavov’s event was, however, going precisely to plan. The Renault driver needs a top-four result to make third in the championship and fourth at the end of the opening day was the perfect result for him.
“From tomorrow we start to focus on getting to the finish,” he said. With two minutes in hand over Britain’s fifth-placed Harry Hunt (Fiesta R2), Slavov could afford a sensible weekend.