Mikko Hirvonen has taken the early lead in Rally Argentina at the mid-way point on Friday, but the BP Ford man will face plenty of pressure through the afternoon loop of stages after a closely fought morning.
Hirvonen took one stage win during the morning to hold an advantage of less than a second over defending champion Sebastien Loeb. However, it isn't just Loeb who Hirvonen will need to be wary of, with the top five drivers split by less than ten seconds following the morning loop.
Loeb had led the way into the morning stages after pacing the Thursday evening Super Special, but saw Jari-Matti Latvala move into the lead when he went quickest through SS2. The young Finn, driving for a finish this weekend after his huge accident in Portugal, wasn't out front for long however as Dani Sordo went quickest on SS3 to move into first.
Second quickest behind Petter Solberg on the next stage was good enough to give Hirvonen the lead and despite being outpaced by Loeb on SS5, the Finn returned to the mid-day service leading the Frenchman by just 0.6 seconds.
"It wasn't a perfect drive but we're leading and that's what matters, although it's very close,” he said. “The surface was soft and dusty with many rocks in the first two stages. I could have pushed harder but there are places where I had to be careful and drive round them. The car took some heavy hits but it's strong enough to withstand those. The next two stages will be abrasive but I'm sure the tyre wear will be fine. I don't think road position made much difference, but it might be more important this afternoon."
Loeb will head into the afternoon stages continuing to sweep the road for the cars behind, but should no benefit from the fact that the four tests have been run once already as he seeks to move into the lead of the event, while team-mate Sordo lies 4.4secs behind in third.
Petter Solberg lies in fourth place and is just two seconds further back, while Latvala slipped to fifth after his early pace-setting performance but remains just 9.1secs away from the lead.
With the battle at the front becoming a five-way affair, Henning Solberg finds himself in a lonely sixth place having been cast adrift by the cars ahead but holding a comfortable lead over Stobart team-mate Matthew Wilson – who is equally lonely in his position ahead of home hero Federico Villagra. Citroen Junior Team pairing Conrad Rautenbach and Sebastien Ogier complete the top ten.
Local driver Gabriel Pozzo leads the Production World Rally Championship runners having taken advantage of problems for early leader Nasser Al-Attiyah to take top spot on SS4 – extending his advantage to just over 15 seconds at the end of the morning loop. Toshi Arai lies in second place, while Al-Attiyah now sits in third place.
Michal Kosciuszko leads the JWRC ahead of fellow Suzuki runner Aaron Burkart. Alessandro Bettega had been the man to beat through the opening stages but then hit trouble in the final stages of the morning to drop well back on the pair ahead.
The crews now head out of service for SS6 at 14.26 local time.