Petter Solberg leads the way following the opening leg of the Rally New Zealand, although series leader Sebastien Loeb finds himself on the back foot after causing damage to his Citroen.

Despite running second on the road, by virtue of his position in the overall standings, Solberg drove to victory on two of the nine stages over the course of the day, the former champion's consistency allowing him to move ahead following the opening loop.

Dani Sordo had been fastest following the morning's stages, but he gradually slipped back into fourth position, promoting Solberg, Jari-Matti Latvala and Sebastien Ogier ahead of him.

Still, Solberg faces a task to keep his rivals behind him with the chasing trio less than ten seconds back, Latvala - who didn't win a stage all day - Ogier and Sordo 1.4secs, 3.9secs and 8.7secs adrift respectively.

Furthermore, the Norwegian has the added disadvantage of running first over the gravel roads on leg two, although Solberg cites Loeb's performance over the course of the day as an indicator of what could be possible from that position.

"It has been very good today," he said. "I have been calm, controlled and I feel great. The main thing for me is to know that Seb is behind me. I just have to deal with it cleaning the road. Seb has done a good job today and I didn't do so bad myself."

Loeb currently sits seventh after the opening day's action after a collision with a bridge left him trying to keep the door of his damaged Citroen shut. By the end of the leg he was 1min 20secs off the leaders.

Still, arch rival Mikko Hirvonen isn't faring much better in fifth, more than twenty seconds off the lead, as he struggled for pace.

Matthew Wilson is in sixth, but was frustrated to lose time when a smashed window left him having to cope with dust entering his Stobert Ford Focus. Prior to that, he had been second fastest through SS2. His team-mate Henning Solberg is two positions further back in eighth.

In the battle for S2000 honours, Jari Ketomaa overcame technical issues on his Fiesta to open up a 22 second lead over fellow Ford driver Xevi Pons.

Overall standings after Stage 9 / Day 1 (Top 10):

1. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC 1hr 35mins 51.3secs A8
2. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 1.4secs M
3. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +00mins 3.9secs M
4. Dani Sordo Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 8.7secs M
5. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 20.2secs M
6. Matthew Wilson Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +01mins 09.7secs M
7. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +01mins 19.8secs M
8. Henning Solberg Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +01mins 45.3secs M
9. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta S2000 +04mins 18.0secs S
10. Xevi Pons Ford Fiesta S2000 +04mins 40.5secs S

SWRC Standings after Stage 9 / Day 1 (Top 3):

1. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta S2000 1 hour 40mins 09.3secs S
2. Xevi Pons Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 22.5secs S
3. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 +01min 02.4secs S

PWRC Standings after Stage 9 / Day 1 (Top 3):

1. Hayden Paddon Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1 hour 41mins 27.6secs P
2. Emma Gilmour Subaru Impreza WRX STi +02mins 02.1secs P
3. Kingsley Thompson Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +03mins 08.6secs P

all times unofficial

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