Belgian star Gregoire de Mevius leads after the opening day of the Rallye International du Maroc, but only by a margin of 34 seconds after an action-packed three stages.

De Mevius had a clean and consistent run throughout the opening day in his Kronos Racing-run Porsche 911, despite getting slightly lost during the opening 54-kilometre Ketarra stage.

He still managed to set third-fastest time, and he backed that up with a fastest time on SS2 and a second-fastest time on SS3. His car experienced no problems at all apart from a minor electrical glitch, and the experienced Belgian - who has competed in the Dakar Rally as well as modern stage rallies in past - is looking forward to another strong day tomorrow.

"Everything went very well, but today is just the first of seven long days, and the stages were not the most demanding of the route," he said. "I'd say that today is a good introduction to what is to come, but nothing more than that."

Although the deserts of Africa are often associated with searing heat, conditions today throughout the opening loop around Marrakech were cool and cloudy, with some sports of rain breaking through.

In second place is South African Geoff Bell, part of a five-car Tuthill Porsche squad, who set the fastest time on the opening stage and followed on with a pair of third-fastest times.

In third is the exotic Ford Capri Perana belonging to Australian Paul Darrouzet, who inadvertently took a 10-kilometre detour on the opening day, but fought back brilliantly to win the final stage of the day with a commanding margin.

"It really wasn't easy, we were going flat-out and I was screaming at my co-driver!" said Darrouzet. "But these things happen in rallying. I've really enjoyed the day, as these are great stages, and we still have plenty of time to make it all up."

Three of the event's biggest stars hit problems on the very first day. Michele Mouton broke a brake calliper on her Tuthill Porsche 911 after hitting a rock on the opening stage, meaning that she had to try and make emergency roadside repairs before driving on for 25 kilometres without brakes. In total, she lost nearly half an hour, so now she is eighth at the first overnight halt back in Marrakech. "After two years out of a car, it wasn't the easiest return to competition for me!" she joked. "Really, we struggled with this problem. But I'm sure I'm going to enjoy myself tomorrow."

Bjorn Waldegard, the 1979 inaugural World Rally Champion, was second-quickest on the opening stage driving Jean-Pierre Nicolas's Peugeot 504 V6, but hit problems on SS2 when the rotor arm failed in the distributor. After 25 minutes of investigation, he finally managed to fix the problem. "With the way that the distributor is located in the Peugeot, underneath the carburettor, the problem wasn't immediately obvious so it took us a little while to sort of fix it. I say 'sort of' because we still had a terrible misfire, so hopefully we can get everything properly driveable for tomorrow."

The upshot of the problem is that Waldegard is now ninth, a good 10 minutes behind Mouton.

Bob Neyret, a two-time winner in Morocco, did not even make it that far. The popular Frenchman got lost on the opening stage before his Citroen DS succumbed to mechanical problems. It was a similar story for former Citroen factory driver Philippe Wambergue, driving an identical car.

Both Citroens are expected to be back in action for the second day of stages tomorrow, which take the crews out of Marrakech towards Ouarzazate. In total, there are 424 kilometres to cover, 179 of them split between two stages and 245 as road sections.

Top 10 classification after day one:

1 Gregoire de Mevius (B)/Nicolas Gilsoul (B) Porsche 911 2h06m54s
2 Geoff Bell (ZA)/Tim Challen (EAK) Porsche 911 2h07m28s
3 Paul Darrouzet (AUS)/Jim Hurman (GB) Ford Capri Perana 2h11m13s
4 John Lloyd (GB)/Adrian Cavenagh (GB) Ford Escort 2h17m17s
5 Steve Troman (GB)/Calvin Cooledge (GB) Porsche 911 2h19m42s
6 Aslam Khan (EAK)/Ashard Khan (EAK) Ford Escort 2h24m24s
7 Jac Nelleman (DK)/Joseph Huber (CH) Porsche 911 2h32m07s
8 Michele Mouton (F)/Fabrizia Pons (I) Porsche 911 2h35m30s
9 Bjorn Waldegard (S)/Denis Giraudet (F) Peugeot 504 2h45m44s

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