Stéphane Lefebvre won the opening round of the JWRC at Rally de Portugal on his FIA World Rally Championship debut.
He won by 62.7sec from Germany’s Christian Riedemann, with Martin Koci third, a further 2min 27.9sec behind. All three were in Citroen DS3 R3s, the car used exclusively in the championship.
“I am as surprised as anyone by this result,” said Lefebvre. “I was looking, above all, to test myself against the competition at this first round. I drove in the middle of the road to try and avoid picking up any punctures.
"I am here to win the championship. I can now see it is possible to win races without having competed at the rally before," he said.
Alastair Fisher was the man to catch initially. Despite a puncture, he ended the opening leg with a 28.7sec lead over Koci and Simone Campedelli.
Koci celebrated his 21st birthday by closing the gap early on Saturday until brake problems cost two minutes and he dropped to fifth. However, Fisher went off in the final stage of the leg and retired and Campedelli went out before the same test with brake problems.
Their demise promoted Lefebvre into first, ahead of a resurgent Koci and Riedemann. The Frenchman controlled his lead through the final day while Riedemann took advantage of Koci’s puncture to grab second from the Slovakian.
Swiss driver Federico Della Casa finished fourth, with Campedelli and Simone Tempestini completing the top six. Jan Cerny, Molly Taylor, Panikos Polykarpou and Quentin Giordano completed the points-paying places.
The next round is Rally Poland on 26 - 29 June.