Finland's Mikko Hirvonen held the lead from Ford team-mate Marcus Gronholm after eight special stages of the inaugural Rally of Norway.
Ford driver Hirvonen was in front all day despite winning just two stages
Hirvonen finished in one hour 24 minutes and 39 seconds to take a 15.5-second lead over Gronholm.
Three-time world champion Sebastien Loeb ploughed into a bank of snow early on but recovered to win five stages and move third, 1.8 seconds further back.
Norway's home hope and former world champion, Petter Solberg, was fourth.
Crowds had turned out in force to cheer on Solberg but the Subaru driver said he had suffered problems with his steering and he is already 44 seconds adrift of Loeb.
Perhaps people have been over optimistic about how I would do
"It's going to be a long weekend," said Solberg, whose brother Henning was seventh for the Stobart M-Sport Ford team.
"The best plan is to build up our confidence carefully and see if we can move closer to the podium positions."
Hirvonen took the first stage through the snowy forest near Hamar and was fastest again in the third to hold the lead going into day two.
"I really attacked this morning," said Hirvonen. "I felt good but I did not think I would be out in front but my tyre choice was perfect."
Citroen driver Loeb, who leads Gronholm by two points in the overall standings, made a sluggish start in Norway but ominously wrapped up the final three stages to close down the lead.
"The conditions were good but I just could not find a decent rhythm and I didn't drive well," said Gronholm.
"Perhaps people have been over optimistic about how I would do."
Rally of Norway results after day one:
1. Mikko Hirvonen (Fin) Ford Focus 1hr 24min 39.0sec
2. Marcus Gronholm (Fin) Ford Focus + 15.5sec
3. Sebastien Loeb (Fra) Citroen C4 + 17.3
4. Petter Solberg (Nor) Subaru Impreza + 1:01.5
5. Toni Gardemeister (Fin) Mitsubishi Lancer + 1:20.2
6. Gigi Galli (Ita) Citroen Xsara + 1:26.2
7. Henning Solberg (Nor) Ford Focus RS + 1:27.2
8. Manfred Stohl (Aut) Citroen Xsara + 1:56.9
9. Chris Atkinson (Aus) Subaru Impreza + 2:10.6
10. Jari-Matti Latvala (Fin) Ford Focus RS + 2:24.6
16. Matthew Wilson (GB) Ford Focus + 4.13.4