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Hirvonen finishes leg one on top

Mikko Hirvonen ended the first day of Rally Norway in the lead ahead of Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb.

The Ford driver has led the event all day, and he was delighted to be battling with the championship leaders.

"It's been a very good day," he said. "I'm really enjoying having a fight with Marcus and Sebastien and I'm happy to be leading the rally."

Loeb dominated the afternoon stages by taking three wins from four, but he is still 17 seconds behind Hirvonen.

"Sebastien has been quick this afternoon," said the rally leader, "but I had the wrong tyre this afternoon so tomorrow we will see."

Loeb's immediate focus will be on Marcus Gronholm, who is just two seconds ahead of him in second place.

"This afternoon Sebastien has beaten me quite comfortably and I don't know why," said Gronholm. "We have lost too much time here."

Petter Solberg had a very good afternoon despite claiming that he had damaged his steering at the start of the loop of stages.

The Subaru driver had been down in seventh place, but after a solid afternoon he is up to fourth, although there is a big gap between him and the top three.

"We broke the steering but it was not bad actually," said Solberg. "Fourth is not bad at all, I am very happy."

Toni Gardemeister had a mixed afternoon, where he made a few errors, but the Mitsubishi driver still moved up a place since this morning at the expense of Gigi Galli and Henning Solberg.

Galli was disappointed to be down in sixth place after he had a spin in SS6, and after that he was unable to get back into a rhythm.

"I'm not really happy," he said. "We lost a good position in two stages. I had a spin in SS6, and after that I was too careful."

Henning Solberg dropped down the order to seventh place during the course of the afternoon, while Manfred Stohl continued to hold off a frustrated Chris Atkinson for eighth place.

"All we can do is make sure we keep the car on the road," said Atkinson. "It's never much fun when you are down where we are."

Jari-Matti Latvala was the only man other than Loeb to win a stage the afternoon, and the Finn is 10th as he continues to make up ground after he was penalised for leaving service late earlier in the day.

Pos  Driver        Make        Time    
 1.  Hirvonen      Ford        1h24:39.0
 2.  Gronholm      Ford        + 15.5
 3.  Loeb          Citroen     + 17.3
 4.  Solberg       Subaru      + 1:01.5
 5.  Gardemeister  Mitsubishi  + 1:20.2
 6.  Galli         Citroen     + 1:26.2
 7.  Solberg       Ford        + 1:27.2
 8.  Stohl         Citroen     + 1:56.9
 9.  Atkinson      Subaru      + 2:10.6
10.  Latvala       Ford        + 2:24.6

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