Citroen number two driver Dani Sordo set the pace on Thursday morning in the shakedown for the Rally Japan, the penultimate round in the 2008 World Rally Championship.

Sordo completed the 1.49 kilometre test stage, which will host the Sapporo Dome super special on days one, two, and three, in 2 minutes 34.2 seconds, 0.3 seconds up on Francois Duval.

However, because the stage is on a concrete surface it gave little indication of the peaking order, as all the 'proper' tests take place on gravel. The crews thus concentrated on finding the optimum lines and braking points for the SSS, rather than working on fine-tuning their cars for the gravel roads.

"I was a little apprehensive prior to this morning's run," Dani conceded. "I thought grip would be a problem but it turned out to be better than I had been expecting. Despite the fact that we will have to use gravel tyres for the super-special, we were able to corner quite hard, find our marks and check that our pace-notes were correct. The track is sufficiently wide to be able to slide safely and put on a bit of a show.

"We will need to take care, however, not to get carried away here during the rally because the walls look pretty solid to me. The super-special promises to be fun, but it will be important not to get caught out."

Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile was third for Ford, followed by Henning Solberg, Sebastien Loeb and Petter Solberg, the latter two joint fifth fastest.

"After this morning's run, we're perfectly ready for the super-special," said Seb. "The shakedown was in no way representative of the gravel stages we face over the next three days, but it did at least give us a foretaste of the specific features of the Sapporo Dome circuit which we will visit five times this weekend.

"The surface was quite slippery to begin with, but grip gradually improved. The stadium's seating capacity is 20,000 and there should be a terrific atmosphere if it is full when we return in anger during the rally."

Further down the order Chris Atkinson and Jari-Matti Latvala were seventh and eighth, while Federico Villagra and Suzuki's Toni Gardemeister completed the top ten.

"Normally we don't change the big things in the shakedown, just the small things," said Gardemeister. "Here we have done nothing so it's a bit more difficult to be starting like this although we will look to start with a similar set-up to Finland and hope it will be okay. Although it wasn't a proper shakedown at least it was fun to drive!

"The Superspecial Stage is very drivable. Even though it's narrow and tricky it's still nice to drive and the grip is much better than it was one the recce because a lot of rubber has been put down."

The Rally Japan now continues later on today with the ceremonial start at 19.30 hours. The action then begins proper on Friday with ten stages on the bill, totalling around 90 competitive kilometres. SS1, the 13.24 kilometre run through Heper 1, begins at 09.11 hours [all times local].

Leading shakedown times:

1. Daniel Sordo Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 2mins 34.2secs M
2. Francois Duval Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC 07 2mins 34.5secs MT
3 Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 08 2mins 34.6secs M
4. Henning Solberg Munchi's Ford Focus WRC 07 2mins 35.0secs MT
5. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 2mins 35.1secs M
= Petter Solberg Subaru WRT Impreza WRC 2008 2mins 35.1secs M
7. Chris Atkinson Subaru WRT Impreza WRC 2008 2mins 35.3secs M
8. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 08 2mins 35.6secs M
9. Federico Villagra Munchi's Ford Focus WRC 07 2mins 36.1secs MT
10. Toni Gardemeister Suzuki WRT SX4 WRC 2mins 37.4secs M

all times unofficial