Latvala leads after first loop in Australia

BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala leads Repco Rally Australia following the first loop - and he will now take a slim 1.1 second cushion into the mid-day service at Kingscliff.

The Finn, who began the day fifth following the two Tweed SSS on Thursday, took full advantage of his fourth-place starting position and took P1 on the second stage this morning, the 22.41 km Repco 1 test.

Latvala then continued to trade tenths of a second with early leader Sebastien Ogier and despite winning three tests from a possible seven, was unable to pull out much of a cushion.

"I am very happy," said Latvala. "I am going to push hard through to the end. I started the rally okay, I had a scary moment in SS4, but I am going to try and keep going. The competition looks tough coming up."

Championship leader Mikko Hirvonen was the first to tackle the gravel coated roads and is placed fifth, 16.6 seconds off Latvala.

"The loose top layer is making it very slippery - we're sliding around," Hirvonen explained. "There is so much loose gravel - it just keeps getting easier as the roads clean up. I am surprised by how loose the road surface is. Even on the straights my wheels were still spinning. That must be the same for Sebastien [Loeb], too. I pushed hard to try and make up some time."

The morning's leg included the event's longest stage, Repco 1 at 22.41km. Here, Hirvonen led the field, despite his disadvantageous road position, tearing through the hard packed shire road in a time 4.3 seconds quicker than his team-mate Latvala.

Finishing no lower than third, Latvala's advantage is minimal over Ogier. The Frenchman won SS9 - “Ooh la la!” was his response - and with a string of three second-fastest stage times he is right behind the current 'top dog', and 11.3 seconds ahead of fellow Citroen drivers Dani Sordo and Sebastien Loeb.

Sordo took a stage win on SS5, while Loeb has been struggling with grip and the loose surface, with a best of second fastest on SS3 and a worst of fifth fastest on SS8 and SS9. The spread between Sordo in third, Loeb and Hirvonen in fifth is just 4.4 seconds.

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