Dani Sordo has assumed the lead of the Rally Portugal after early front runner Jari-Matti Latvala crashed out of a comfortable advantage on the fourth stage.

The Finn was making good use of his optimal starting position, by virtue of his disappointing start to the season, to eke out a ten second gap over Sordo on stages two and three.

However, while Latvala has taken steps in Portugal to try and reduce his tendency to crash, including revised pace notes, the Ford driver once again finds himself propping up the retirement's list after he rolled out of contention on SS4 through Malhao.

Describing the crash as the biggest of his career, although both he and co-driver Mikko Anttila are reported to be unhurt, a third crash in four rallies will deal another blow to Latvala's increasingly fragile reputation in the Ford team.

His misfortune leaves Sordo in the lead by a slender three seconds, the Spaniard setting consistently competitive times throughout the morning to be the surprise front runner heading into the afternoon's stages.

However, he is coming under pressure from Marcus Gronholm, who is showing no signs of rustiness on his return to WRC competition, by running Sordo close throughout the day and out pacing former team-mate Mikko Hirvonen.

Gronholm could have taken the lead too had he not been caught out at the start of SS4, the former champion admitting he wasn't ready for the stage start having initially been informed it would be cancelled due to Latvala's crash.

Nonetheless, he heads into the afternoon, which will be a re-run of the morning's stages, in a remarkably good position, 3.2secs behind Sordo and the same amount ahead of Hirvonen.

Hirvonen endured a quiet morning, struggling somewhat by running second on the stage behind Sebastien Loeb, although he will be frustrated to have seen the Frenchman top the timesheets on the first run through SS4.

Indeed, by contrast, Loeb has endured a tough morning, over-shooting just 300 metres into the first stage of the rally. However, the innocuous incident was exacerbated when Loeb was forced to wait for more than 20secs whilst the dust settled around him and he could work out which direction to take.

Nonetheless, Loeb has forged his way back up to fourth with a quick time in SS4, even if he remains 22.7secs off Sordo's lead.

Fresh from his podium in Cyprus, Petter Solberg made a solid start to his rally, consistently covering the middle ground behind the rally favourites, to keep Matthew Wilson at bay, the British driver himself making a better start than usual to end the morning a comfortable sixth.

However, he is under pressure from Russian sensation Evgeny Novikov, who is again showing impressive speed in the Citroen C4 WRC, to not only out pace well regarded team-mate Sebastien Ogier, but also manage a top five stage time in SS4. He is just over a second behind Wilson in seventh.

Ogier is currently in eighth position, while Henning Solberg and Mads Ostberg round out the top ten after both struggling with brake problems through the morning.

Elsewhere, Nasser Al-Attiyah leads the way in the Production WRC, although his cause was aided by Patrik Sandell crashing his Skoda Fabia S2000 on the first stage of the day, while early leader Bruno Magalhaes has also dropped out of contention in the Peugeot 207.

Michel Kosciuszko leads the Junior World Rally standings after the first four stages.