Day 1: Solberg consolidates

Petter Solberg continued his domination of this weekend's Supermag Rally Italia Sardinia after winning the final stage of the day as his rivals did all they could to try and eat into his commanding lead. The Subaru ace has a 30s advantage over his nearest challenger Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm while championship points leader Sebastien Loeb is a further five seconds down in fifth

Day 1: Solberg consolidates

Solberg needs to score three points more than Citroen's Loeb this weekend to keep his championship hopes alive, not that he needs instructions from his team to hurry up for he is seemingly already pushing at the max.

The Norwegian set the fastest times in three out of the six stages on the first leg putting any fears that he may have been at a disadvantage running second on the sandy roads firmly behind him. By the end of the first stage Solberg already had a 16.9s advantage over the rest of the field, and that was whilst driving with a puncture too.

Overheating problems with his cooling system and engine in the second and third stages didn't seem to hinder him either as he eked out a lead of 30s over his rivals that he managed to maintain for the rest of the day.

With Solberg out front the battle is on for second place with the action hotting up as the first leg drew to a close. Gronholm has emerged as 'best of the rest' despite being off the boil on the first three stages. The Finn complained that his car didn't feel comfortable and vowed to change the set-up of his 307 during the service break.

It seemed to have worked for the Finn was on the pace from the off as the afternoon action begin. He set the fastest time on SS4 and SS5 as drivers repeated the same loop of stages from the morning. Hot on his tail, though, is championship favourite Loeb, who has launched his fightback moving from ninth overall after SS1 up to third after winning SS6 to put him within 5s of Gronholm. The Frenchman will also be buoyed by the fact that his role as road-sweeper on the sandy stages has come to an end now.

Team-mate Carlos Sainz has finished the leg in fourth spot overhauling Ford's Markko Martin following a speedy run on the final stage of the day. Martin has steadily dropped from second overall after the first stage to fifth. The Estonian admitted during the service break that he found the tight and twisty stages on the Sardinian island a real challenge and it seems it didn't get easier for him second time round as he lost yet more time to finish the day 1m07s off the pace of Solberg.

Martin has a bit of breathing space for Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera is 15s down, but if team-mate Gronholm's recent form is anything to go by then the Ford driver better look out. Team-mate Francois Duval has likewise dropped down the order throughout the day and is in danger of being in no-man's land in seventh with the leading group moving further away while the privateers behind him are way back.

Leading that group is Italian privateer Andrea Navarra in eighth spot overall in the Subaru Impreza.

After announcing it's involvement in the 2005 championship, Skoda got off to a disappointing start with Toni Gardemeister stopping on the stage in his Fabia WRC while team-mate Armin Schwarz is 11th overall, 4m44 off Solberg's pace.

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