BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen has taken the lead on Rally Norway, the second round in the 2009 World Rally Championship, following the opening loop of four stages this morning.
Mikko, who was second through the short Oslo SSS on Thursday night, 0.6 seconds behind Petter Solberg, snatched P1 immediately, completing the first 'proper' test in 8 minutes 6 seconds, 2.5 seconds up on Sebastien Loeb, who was 'best of the rest'.
Hirvonen then slipped to second in SS3, 0.4 seconds behind Loeb, before re-taking the initiative in SS4 and then increasing his cushion from 2.5 seconds to 4.8 going into the 15-minute remote service zone in Kongsvinger.
"It was a good start and conditions are pretty much as I expected," said Hirvonen. "There doesn't seem to be any disadvantage for drivers at the head of the start order, which I thought there might be.
"Pirelli's new wide snow tyre works well with just a little movement when the snow is loose. I stalled the engine for a couple of seconds under braking in the second stage, but the car feels perfect.
"It's a big fight with Loeb – and that's how it should be. I can't use the car heater so it feels really cold and I'm only using the small heater on my driving boots during the liaison sections."
Loeb meanwhile is enjoying the fight and is generally happy with his Citroen C4 WRC: "At the moment everything is good for us but I expect to lose a little more time on the second time through the stages," he added.
"I am very happy with the car though and I don't think we will change much at the service."
Jari-Matti Latvala is next up, but he is already over 20 seconds off the battle for the lead. The Finn had a consistent morning and was second fastest in SS4 and third in SS2 and SS5.
"I haven't really found the right feeling yet so I'm going to make the car set-up a little softer," he explained.
"I had a good winter test in December so I don't want to make big changes, just a few small tweaks - there's no need to panic. Ruts are developing in the snow and it isn't as easy to keep the car in the tracks with the wider tyre as it was with the narrower version we used in previous years."
Further down the order, Dani Sordo and Petter Solberg complete the top five, split by 20.6 seconds.