Loeb takes over Norway lead

Sebastien Loeb has taken the lead of the Rally Norway after Mikko Hirvonen lost time in the final stage of day one

Loeb takes over Norway lead

Hirvonen had continued to edge away from Loeb through the first three Friday afternoon stages, but dropped nine seconds in the second run through Kirkenaer and ended the day 2.6 seconds behind the world champion.

Although neither driver was keen to run first on the road tomorrow, Hirvonen was adamant that he had not deliberately dropped time.

"My rear tyres are completely finished," said the Ford driver. "I tried as hard as I could, but I couldn't do a better time. It's definitely not what I wanted to do."

Loeb said he was relishing the battle with Hirvonen and had been flat-out all day.

"It's really, really good fun to drive on these roads and have a real fight like this," he said. "I pushed really hard, took some risks sometimes, but at the moment we are here and in a good position for tomorrow."

Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala looked like he might make it a three-way lead dice when he closed on Hirvonen and Loeb in SS6 and SS7, but he lost ground in the next two stages and completed the day 26.2 seconds behind Loeb in third, and a comfortable 42.4 seconds ahead of fourth-placed Dani Sordo (Citroen).

Per-Gunnar Andersson was the star of this afternoon's stages. Competing in a private Skoda Fabia after Suzuki's departure at the end of 2008, the double Junior champion took shock stage wins in both SS6 and SS7, and was third-quickest in SS9. That performance vaulted him from an early 10th to sixth place - just 0.1 seconds behind Petter Solberg (Solberg Citroen).

"It's been really good, especially in the second time through the stages," said Andersson. "There's been fantastic grip and the car has been handling really well. I think fifth position is probably the best we can reach, but we have to look forward and I'll try my best tomorrow."

Andersson is now sandwiched between the two Solberg brothers, with just 7.9 seconds covering the trio in fifth to seventh. Both Solbergs closed on Sordo at the start of the afternoon then lost momentum - Petter struggling with tyre wear having taken just one spare, and Henning having to switch to manual gear-changing after problems with his Stobart Ford's paddle system.

Matthew Wilson finished the day in a strong eighth place for Stobart, having been fourth-fastest in SS9. He moved clear of Sebastien Ogier (Citroen Junior) and Urmo Aava (Stobart) when both had brief trips off the road in Kongsvinger.

Citroen Junior's Russian teenager Evgeny Novikov has also impressed on his debut in a World Rally Car, moving up to 11th place with a stunning second-fastest time in SS9.

Andreas Mikkelsen (Uspenskiey Subaru) closed to within two seconds of Patrik Sandell (Red Bull Skoda) in the Production fight, only to go off the road in SS8 and lose three minutes. That left Sandell with a commanding two-minute class lead over the battling Armindo Araujo and Martin Prokop.

Leading positions after day one:

Pos  Driver                Car      Time
 1.  Sebastien Loeb        Citroen  1h13:41.7
 2.  Mikko Hirvonen        Ford      +    2.6
 3.  Jari-Matti Latvala    Ford      +   26.2
 4.  Dani Sordo            Citroen   + 1:08.6
 5.  Petter Solberg        Citroen   + 1:31.5
 6.  Per-Gunnar Andersson  Skoda     + 1:31.6
 7.  Henning Solberg       Ford      + 1:39.4
 8.  Matthew Wilson        Ford      + 2:03.3
 9.  Sebastien Ogier       Citroen   + 2:41.2
10.  Urmo Aava             Ford      + 2:41.5

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Hirvonen takes early lead in Norway
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