Jari-Matti Latvala declared day one of the Rallye de France his best ever performance on asphalt in the World Rally Championship.
The Ford driver sits 13.1 seconds behind Sebastien Loeb after 91 miles of competition through the Alsatian lanes.
"OK, some of the times are still a little bit up and down, but I am very happy with today - it's the best for me on this surface," said Latvala.
"I am still in the fight for this rally and the aim tomorrow is to keep pushing and keep giving the pressure to Loeb."
Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson was equally pleased with the Finn's performance, adding: "Jari-Matti has taken on Sebastien on his home ground today and won three stages against him. That's something which he and the team are very pleased with. I hope he will continue to carry the fight to Seb tomorrow."
Latvala felt he turned a corner on asphalt in France last year, winning all but one of the final-day stages in Alsace.
In August, he took his best ever finish on asphalt, second in Germany.
Wilson felt that credit also had to go to the M-Sport team that prepares the car.
"His speed today is a sign of the progress we've made with the car in recent months," he said.
Leader Loeb admitted he would be keeping a wary eye on Latvala's times.
"We have had no problems today, a clean day, but we have had to push - because Latvala is on a big push," said Loeb.
Third-placed Mikko Hirvonen is 20 seconds behind Latvala.
- Sebastien Loeb