Citroen privateer Petter Solberg set the pace this evening as Rally Poland, round eight in the 2009 World Rally Championship, kicked off with the short 2.50 kilometre super special stage in Mikolajki.

Petter completed the test in front of a sell-out crowd in 1 minute 48.3 seconds, edging out Sebastien Loeb, who was second. Loeb was just 0.3 seconds slower in his C4 WRC, although the Frenchman had an early scare when he suffered from overheating problems.

"This is great," Petter told his personal website. "It was really slippery in some places because of the rain, but I couldn't get a better start than this.

"It gives us the good feeling we need before the weekend starts, as I am certain this will be our toughest rally this season."

BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen and Andreas Mikkelsen, who is competing on this event in a Skoda Fabia WRC, meanwhile were joint third quickest, while Dani Sordo completed the top five, followed by Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg and Sebastien Ogier, who tied for P6.

"We had good fun tonight but I will be taking things serious tomorrow," said Henning. "The people here love their rallying and it was great to put on a good show for them tonight.

"The recce went well for us but I know this rally will be hard and the secret here is to stay out of trouble and be precise on the fast stages; any small mistake can end in trouble. We need a good finish here to maintain our strong championship position."

Further down the order Matthew Wilson was eighth, with Jari-Matti Latvala and Evgeny Novikov ninth and tenth respectively.

"It's great to see so many people here tonight and from what I hear the stages are going to be packed as well," said Matt. "The stage tonight was really nice with good grip, it's a fun way to get settled into the rally but the real action starts tomorrow and from what we've seen on the recce, there's going to be a lot of high speed driving.

"It's always good to come to a new event but this will be a tricky rally with the surface changes and it may be hard to get into a good rhythm."

Of the rest Mads Ostberg came in eleventh with local star, Krzysztof Holowczyc twelfth and Conrad Rautenbach 13th.

"I'm very proud to be here tonight starting the rally in front of the packed grandstands and I'm going to try very hard for the Polish spectators," Holowczyc vowed.

"It was fantastic to start the event with this stage to show the fans what kind of action they will be in for over the next three days. My knowledge of this event is very good but the competition here will be tough and I need to use my experience well to push hard for a solid result."

The action now begins 'proper' on Friday, with six stages on the bill - totalling around 110 competitive kilometres.

Day one is made up of a compact loop of three stages close to Mikolajki. The cars are expected to reach high speeds on the soft, sandy roads and the organisers have added rows of straw bales to the stages to prevent the drivers from cutting corners. The biggest challenge tomorrow is SS3 - Paprotki, the longest stage of the rally at 33.17 kilometres.

The first test of the day - SS2, the 12.09 kilometre run through Grabowka 1, begins at 09.51 hours [local time].