Day 1am: Solberg flies

Subaru's Petter Solberg has taken a 20s lead after the first four stages on leg one of this weekend's inaugural Rally Japan. The Norwegian claimed three stage wins and left championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) and Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) fighting for second

Day 1am: Solberg flies

Solberg got off to a flyer on the first stage, taking his Subaru round the 26.1km Yam Wakka stage a massive 11 seconds quicker than his nearest challenger Loeb. Solberg declared at the start of the rally that he would be driving a cautious first leg following his retirement from the last two rounds in Finland and Germany. Either he was lying or his rivals will be quaking in their racing boots.

Solberg went on to take the second stage, this time 6.9s clear of his nearest rival, Peugeot's Gronholm. It was enough to put the Finn ahead of Loeb in second place though. It did nothing but inspire the Frenchman, however, who won the third stage through Niueo to reclaim his second spot overall.

But Gronholm vaulted back into second after the fourth stage of the day as the drivers headed into the first service break.

"Things have worked out very well - much better than I expected," Solberg said. "It was a big relief after the first stage, because I didn't really know how my confidence would be, but it all seems to be working perfectly. I think my pace notes could have been better, but they're new stages, new conditions and it's the same for everyone.

"I think everyone took soft tyres for that group of stages, and that seemed to be the right decision. We'll make a couple of small changes in service, but overall I'm very, very happy."

Ford's Markko Martin is in fourth ahead of the Citroen of Carlos Sainz. Ford's second driver Francois Duval is sixth ahead of Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera and Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen.

Both Ford drivers have blamed their lack of experience and poor pace notes on their slow showing so far this morning.

"It has been a difficult morning," said Martin. "Our pace notes are inconsistent and [co-driver] Beef [Michael Park] has spent 50 per cent of the time calling notes and the other 50 percent writing changes.

Duval admitted that he had suffered the same problems as Martin, but that co-driver Droeven - who has replaced Stephane Prevot for Japan - was doing a good job. "I had a big incident on the first corner of the first stage," he said. "I didn't know what was going to happen, but it was definitely a 'hello airport' moment. It has been hard for Phillipe, but he's done well and things aren't too bad. My tyres were too soft, but I think that was the same for everyone."

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