Solberg Finishes Day One on Top

Petter Solberg moved into a commanding position on the Rally Japan after the final two stages of the opening leg

Solberg Finishes Day One on Top

The Norwegian, who won the inaugural event last year, was blistering through SS8, the 18.47km stage of Sipirkakim 2, beating Sebastien Loeb by more than seven seconds to take his second stage victory of the day.

Solberg lost a second to Loeb in the final stage of the day, the Sasunai Superspecial, however the Subaru driver holds a comfortable 22.9-second advantage over the Citroen driver.

Loeb said before the rally that he would not take risks in pursuit of the rally victory and would instead measure his pace to ensure he secured the podium finish he needs to win his second successive WRC crown.

Loeb is 11.6 seconds ahead of Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm in third, but is 40 seconds ahead of Chris Atkinson in fourth and is unlikely to have to push too hard on the event to ensure he leaves Japan with the title.

Atkinson, who had been trading the lead of the rally with Solberg during the morning's stages, complained of heavy localised fog on SS8 and passed the finish with the ninth quickest time. He remains fourth, despite fifth-placed Harri Rovanpera gaining 3.1 seconds back by winning the final stage of the day.

Rovanpera's Mitsubishi teammate Gigi Galli is locked in a battle for sixth with Citroen driver Francois Duval. Duval is now only 1.2 seconds behind after Galli lost eleven seconds on the final stage of the day.

Ford's charge is lead by Roman Kresta in seventh, who leads teammate Toni Gardemeister by 2.8 seconds. Gardemeister complained of a lack of confidence in his pace notes through the morning stages.

Privateer Antony Warmbold, who had been the leading Ford at one stage, dropped time on SS7 after stopping to check out a suspect noise from the car. When no major problems could be detected, the German rejoined the road to finish the stage more than three minutes slower than Loeb. He ended the day in 11th.

Mikko Hirvonen, driving in his first event for Skoda's factory team, retired after SS7. The Finn lost time on SS3 when his hydraulic system was damaged by a rock in the middle of the road and reverted to a manual gearshift. A similar problem befall the car on the Rally GB, when former champion Colin McRae had to revert to the manual shift.

Daniel Carlsson has had a steady day filling in for Markko Martin at Peugeot and ended the day in tenth.

Standings after leg one:

Pos  Driver       Make        Time
 1.  Solberg      Subaru       1:31:20.2
 2.  Loeb         Citroen     +     22.9
 3.  Gronholm     Peugeot     +     34.5
 4.  Atkinson     Subaru      +   1:36.6
 5.  Rovanpera    Mitsubishi  +   1:54.2
 6.  Galli        Mitsubishi  +   2:10.7
 7.  Duval        Citroen     +   2:11.9
 8.  Kresta       Ford        +   2:50.6
 9.  Gardemeister Ford        +   2:53.4
10.  Carlsson     Peugeot     +   3:14.4
11.  Warmbold     Ford        +   5:18.4
12.  Schwarz      Skoda       +   6:17.0
13.  Panizzi      Mitsubishi  +   7:10.8
14.  Nutahara     Mitsubishi  +  10:46.1
15.  Arai         Subaru      +  10:50.9
16.  Crocker      Subaru      +  10:54.5
17.  Kamada       Subaru      +  11:17.4
18.  Pozzo        Subaru      +  12:17.6
19.  Teiskonen    Subaru      +  12:18.6
20.  Katsuta      Subaru      +  13:13.0

All Timing Unofficial

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