Citroen privateer Petter Solberg
won two out of the three stages this morning to seize the early lead on Rally Japan, despite not feeling 100 per cent.
Solberg, who was eighth following the two opening short Sapporo super specials on Thursday, began by completing the first test, the 26.92 km Iwanke Long 1 stage, in 16 minutes 21.2 seconds, 3.2 seconds up on overnight leader, Sebastien Ogier.
The Norwegian then went quickest again in SS4, moving up from second overall to P1, 8.5 seconds up on his closet rival. Although 'Hollywood' had to settle for the joint second quickest in SS5, 1 second off his brother, Henning, he still increased his lead over Ogier and returned to the mid-day service with a 10.3 second advantage.
"I must be consistent," said Petter. "I know I am able to drive very fast like in Finland or Germany. I would like to keep the same pace during the second loop this afternoon, but I don't want to do make any mistakes. Rally Japan is very important for me. I have a fever and I feel tired. I need to keep all my energy to drive."
Ogier, who was second quickest in SS3, dropped off the pace a bit in SS4 and SS5 and was only fifth and sixth quickest. Despite that though, he was still happy: "It's a good start. I'm very satisfied to hold second position after the three stages this morning. Maybe, I swept the roads a bit but I could use the lines that [Sebastien] Loeb left and that helped me. In the first stage, I had a good feeling so I pushed really hard. I don't mind if it's my first time here because I trust my pace notes," he said.
Dani Sordo meanwhile completes the top three, giving Citroen
a clean sweep of the podium places, followed by BP Ford
Abu Dhabi men, Mikko Hirvonen
and Jari-Matti Latvala, the former just 0.9 seconds off P3.
"In places the surface is very soft with ruts, but in others it's quite slippery," Hirvonen revealed. "In the soft sections, it feels as though the car is being sucked into the sand and I'm not going anywhere. But I'm sure that's the same for everyone. I think the ruts in the first stage this afternoon will be massive."
"I had a comfortable speed in the first stage but had no split times coming into the car, and I was shocked by the times of the others at the finish," added Latvala. "I could have driven faster, and would have if I had been able to see the splits.
"I had a good feeling in the corners where it was soft with big ruts. The grip was good there so I pushed hard in the ruts and it worked well. The gap from the lead is fine at the moment, but I don't want it to grow any larger."