Latvala leads as Citroens back off

Jari-Matti Latvala leads the Rally of Portugal at the end of day one as Ford pushed on while Citroen decided to slow to get better road positions for Saturday

Latvala leads as Citroens back off

Citroen's Sebastien Ogier and Ford driver Latvala were quickest during the afternoon, setting joint fastest times on SS5 Santa Clara before Latvala won SS6 Ourique.

That meant Ogier went into today's final stage leading Latvala by just 1.8 seconds and with their respective team-mates Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen also within 6.9s of the lead.

Ogier did not want to start Saturday - when Citroen expects the stages to feature more loose dust - with such a small margin, so slowed near the end of Felizes and dropped back to fourth position.

"For now nobody knows exactly what will happen tomorrow," Ogier said. "I already decided, I knew I needed a big gap if I wanted to stay in the lead and it was not possible to take it today because the conditions were very similar for everyone."

But as Hirvonen had managed to lead the opening stages and then stay in the lead fight despite running first on the road today, Ford is more confident that it can hang on at the front - though Latvala appeared to have mixed feelings about the tactic as he completed the leg leading the rally by 11s over Hirvonen, 13.7s over Loeb and 16.7s over Ogier.

"It might not be the ideal position to be, but it is what it is and I'm not afraid of what's happening," said Latvala. "It would have been maybe the best time to slow down, but this time it went like this."

Hirvonen said he had no worries at all about running ahead of the Citroens on the road tomorrow.

"I'm really happy with how today went. In any case, it doesn't matter what happens - tomorrow is going to be absolutely flat-out," he said. "Now the real attack and fight starts. But I'm feeling really good and relaxed."

Loeb felt Citroen had no choice but to avoid running first on the road because he thinks Ford has the edge this weekend and the French squad must try and take whatever advantage it can.

"Mikko was going really fast today as first on the road and I couldn't take a gap on him today, but I'd prefer to be behind," said Loeb. "I think the Fords are very dangerous here, they are going very fast."

Behind the four-way lead battle, Petter Solberg's attempted recovery drive was ruined with three more punctures this afternoon. He eventually stopped before the finish of Felizes, deciding that he would lose less time by taking a superally penalty than he would potentially dropping many minutes crawling through the stage and then still risking retiring on the way back to service.

"It's better to just stop there and get the superally 10 minutes than lose 12 or 13 minutes and maybe not get back," said the Solberg Citroen driver.

"I had exactly the same tyre pressures as all the other guys like Sebastien. The first one this morning, that was me, I hit a rock. But these three, I don't have an explanation."

Kimi Raikkonen also suffered a puncture delay and is now ninth in his Ice 1 Citroen.

The remaining Stobart Fords of Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson run fifth and sixth, having swapped positions as the Briton struggled with a loss of power this afternoon.

Behind them, Armindo Araujo has got the new S2000 Mini up to a superb seventh overall on its debut.

Hayden Paddon has established a half-minute lead over Anders Grondal in the Production class, with Paddon's early rival Patrik Flodin out of contention after rolling this morning.

The new one-make WRC Academy junior series makes its debut in Portugal. Craig Breen completed the opening day of the category with a 48s lead over Egon Kaur and Alastair Fisher's battle for second.

Leading positions after SS7: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford 1h23m31.4s 2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 11.5s 3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 13.7s 4. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 16.7s 5. Henning Solberg Stobart Ford + 2m06.5s 6. Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford + 2m11.2s 7. Armindo Araujo Italia Mini + 3m43.7s 8. Federico Villagra Munchi's Ford + 4m31.9s 9. Kimi Raikkonen Ice 1 Citroen + 4m33.1s 10. Khalid Al Qassimi Abu Dhabi Ford + 4m35.2s 
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