BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen set the pace on Thursday morning in the shakedown for the Wales Rally GB, the final round in the 2008 World Rally Championship.

Hirvonen completed the 3.90 kilometre test stage in Penllergaer Forest, 18 kilometres north of the service park in Swansea, in 2 minutes 25.6 seconds, 0.9 seconds up on Petter Solberg.

The Finn, who of course won this event last year and who won last time out in Japan, opted for three passes in his M-Sport-run Focus RS WRC car setting what would turn out to be the quickest time on his third and final go.

Sebastien Loeb meanwhile was third for Citroen, half a second off Solberg's Impreza and 0.2 seconds up on his team-mate, Dani Sordo, who was fourth in the sister C4 WRC car.

"Compared with the wintry weather we faced during recce, this morning's conditions were perfect," Loeb said. "Although the surface wasn't frozen, the going was very muddy and extremely slippery, as is so often the case on this event.

"We profited from the morning to make a few changes to the suspension set-up of our C4 WRC. Our aim wasn't to set the fastest time at all costs.

"Above all, we wanted to make further improvements to the handling of our car in these conditions where there's hardly any grip at."

"The morning went very well for us," added Sordo. "The conditions were what you would expect to find in Wales at this time of the year. Compared with the set-up we have decided to use for the start, we tried a few variants to see how our car reacted to different changes to the settings.

"Today's work could well come in useful once the event starts. The test stage started to cut up after a certain number of passes. It started to get rougher and you could see ruts beginning to form, so we decided to call it a day after a while."

Further down the order Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top five, while Stobart Ford's nominated drivers' Francois Duval and Matthew Wilson were sixth and eighth, sandwiching the Subaru of Chris Atkinson.

Suzuki's Per-Gunnar Andersson and 2008 Junior World Rally champion, Sebastien Ogier, who is making his debut in a World Rally car this weekend, rounded out the top ten.

MotoGP ace Valentino Rossi was 17th fastest of the 21 drivers' entered in WRC cars - his best a 2 minute 41.7 second effort.

The Wales Rally GB now continues later on today with the ceremonial start at 18.00 hours in Cardiff. The action then begins proper on Friday with eight stages on the bill, totalling around 124 competitive kilometres. SS1, the 19.10 kilometre run through Hafren 1, begins at 09.08 hours [all times local].

Leading shakedown times*:

1. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 08 2mins 25.6secs M
2. Petter Solberg Subaru WRT Impreza WRC 2008 2mins 26.5secs M
3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 2mins 27.0secs M
4. Daniel Sordo Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 2mins 27.2secs M
5. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 08 2mins 28.1secs M
6. Francois Duval Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC 07 2mins 29.0secs MT
7. Chris Atkinson Subaru WRT Impreza WRC 2008 2mins 29.2secs M
8. Matthew Wilson Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC 07 2mins 30.2secs MT
9. Per-Gunnar Andersson Suzuki WRT SX4 WRC 2mins 30.4secs M
10. Sebastien Ogier PH Sport-Citroen C4 WRC 2mins 30.6secs A8
11. Toni Gardemeister Suzuki WRT SX4 WRC 2mins 31.7secs M
12. Mads Ostberg Adapta WRT Subaru WRC 2mins 32.2secs A8
13. Henning Solberg Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC 07 2mins 33.8secs A8
14. Barry Clark Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC 07 2mins 34.6secs A8
15. Khalid Al Qassimi BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 08 2mins 36.8secs A8
16. Conrad Rautenbach PH Sport-Citroen C4 WRC 2mins 37.4secs A8
17. Valentino Rossi Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC 07 2mins 41.7secs A8
18. Gareth Jones Subaru Impreza WRC 2mins 45.2secs A8
19. Dave Weston Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC 05 2mins 46.0secs A8
20. Steve Perez Stobart VK Ford Focus 2mins 47.5secs A8
21. Eamonn Boland Subaru Impreza WRC 2mins 53.9secs A8

M - denotes Manufacturer entry.
MT - denotes Manufacturer Team entry.

* Note: Leading times includes World Rally Cars drivers only - priority 1 and 2.

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