Citroen privateer Petter Solberg leads Rally Japan at the end of the opening day, despite battling with a fever and not feeling 100 per cent.

Solberg, who was eighth following the two opening short Sapporo super specials on Thursday night, got off to a strong start, winning two of the first three 'proper' stages to grab the early lead and pull out a 10.3 second advantage.

Although the Norwegian saw that margin cut back a bit on the repeat loop, he pushed on and prior to the third and fourth runs through the short 1.57 kilometre Sapporo super special, had an 8.5 second lead over Mikko Hirvonen. He then managed to stretch that cushion slightly in SS9 and SS10 - taking his third stage win of the event in Sapparo 4 - and will now go into Saturday's second leg with a 9.4 second lead.

"It feels great to finish the first day in Japan, as the overnight leader," said Solberg. "We know, and we have shown before that we are able to fight with the others when everything is perfect, and today it has been. Well, maybe except myself.

"I can really feel that the fever is definitely not helping, and at the end of the long stages today, I had to fight hard to keep focus and I know I lost time. I hope another night with some good sleep will help me. I have no special plan for tomorrow and I will just get back out there and do my best."

Hirvonen meanwhile had a bit of a slow start and slipped to fourth in the first loop. However the BP Ford Abu Dhabi man, who is chasing a hat-trick of wins in Japan, bounced back on the repeat runs, winning SS7 and SS8, to haul himself right up into contention.

"I've had some difficult rallies recently and to be back in the fight for victory feels good," said Hirvonen. "My plan was to build my pace slowly as the day progressed. I'm sure the guys behind will attack tomorrow, but I'm ready for it."

Sebastien Ogier, who is back competing with the Citroen 'A' team, completes the top three, albeit 11.9 seconds off P2 - and 21.3 seconds off the lead. Still it was a good effort from the Frenchman and he was pretty pleased to be on course for a rostrum on his first outing in Japan.

"I didn't push in the last stage in case my rivals wanted me to be first out tomorrow," he explained. "I'm happy with my day and my place though. But I can't say I really like these stages and these conditions. I don't know yet if I'll be in a position to battle for victory right until the end, but we're only twenty seconds behind, so everything's still possible!"

Next up is Jari-Matti Latvala and he struggled a bit in SS3 as he had a problem receiving the split times of his rivals and was unable to gauge his pace. With the issue sorted though for SS4, he was back on it and he moved up from fourth to fifth in SS6, when he was quickest overall.

"It was like a motocross circuit in places today," Latvala said. "I feel comfortable in the car and I want to climb the order tomorrow. However, the positions are close so it won't be easy to achieve that."

Dani Sordo rounds out the top five and after running third early on this morning, he was unable to hang onto the final podium place. Indeed from being third quickest in the first two tests, he was only seventh in SS5, sixth in SS6 and SS7 and fifth in SS8. Following the Sapporo super specials he now lies 14.1 seconds off Latvala.

"We tried to lose as little time as possible but the car was less efficient this afternoon," Sordo reflected. "I'm very happy that we were able to get back to service though and looking at our overall classification, it didn't go so badly for us in the end. Tomorrow we'll have a good start position, so our plan is to attack!"

Further down the order, Sebastien Loeb ended the day sixth, having struggled running first on the road. The Frenchman, who could clinch the WRC drivers' title for a record seventh time this weekend, ends the day 18.1 seconds off Sordo and over 50 seconds off the lead.

"I'm trying to push as hard as possible. I feel I'm driving well and I feel good in the car. But I see the gap increasing inexorably," Loeb noted. "Let's not draw hasty conclusions. We'll see what happens tomorrow and whether our position on the road was responsible for the gaps today. I remember that I was 1m 30s behind on the first day of Rally Mexico, and I still won, so we shouldn't be counted out - yet!"

Of the rest, Stobart Ford men, Henning Solberg and Matt Wilson come in seventh and eighth, and while the former did set the pace in SS5 in his Focus RS WRC car, disappointingly he is almost 30 seconds off Loeb and more than a minute off a podium place.

"When I pulled into the first service today, I wanted to stiffen the car and gain more traction but I think I made a mistake changing the set-up for the afternoon," Henning revealed. "The ruts on the road were very deep and I felt like the car was floating - I just couldn't find a good rhythm.

"The car is far too low and I pushed as hard as I could but the car just kept hitting the ground. But I am happy with how everything went overall - it was good to get a stage win after nearly a year and a half. I thought I was going to get another win on SS8 but the low set-up of the car definitely slowed me down."

Munchi's man Federico Villagra and F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen complete the top ten. Raikkonen is 16.6 seconds off Villagra, who in turn is 29.6 seconds off Wilson in P8.

"It's not been the easiest day I've spent in a rally car, but I was expecting this one to be tough right from the start," said Raikkonen. "There are a lot of good things too though: for a start we've had no mistakes and we've also had a good feeling with the pace notes all day, especially in the afternoon when we definitely felt more comfortable.

"The problem for me as usual is finding out how much grip there is and getting the right confidence with the car, but I think that this is normal for someone with my level of experience. Every rally and every stage is a different challenge: you just have to keep cool about it and keep learning, which is what I am doing. Tomorrow is another day and we're just going to carry on our work, with the aim of being at the finish. That's the most important thing."

In the support categories, Jari Ketomaa has headed up the SWRC category from the off. Martin Prokop is his closest challenger, 55.3 seconds back, while Bernardo Sousa is third. Only three drivers are entered in the SWRC this weekend.

As for the PWRC, Patrik Flodin leads, two minutes up on Hayden Paddon. Early PWRC leader and local star, Toshi Arai crashed out in SS4.

Arai was one of only two 'big' retirements today, the other BP Ford Abu Dhabi 'third' driver, Khalid Al-Qassimi, who crashed out in the first stage this morning, just 2 kilometres in. Al-Qassimi's Focus RS WRC was badly damaged and he will not be able to re-start on Saturday under the SupeRally.

The action now continues on Saturday and day two follows a similar format, with another eight stages and 125 competitive kilometres on the bill. SS11, the 17.68 km-run through Nikara Short 1, begins at 10.28 hours local time. Leg two concludes with two more runs through the Sapporo super special, which will be used eight times in total this weekend.

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

1. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC 1hour 13mins 31.2secs A8
2. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 09.4secs M
3. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 21.3secs M
4. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 22.4secs M
5. Dani Sordo Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +00mins 36.5secs M
6. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 54.5secs M
7. Henning Solberg Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +01mins 22.2secs M
8. Matthew Wilson Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +03mins 16.9secs M
9. Federico Villagra Munchi's Ford Focus WRC +03mins 46.5secs M
10. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +04mins 03.1secs M

SWRC Standings after Stage 10 / Day 1 (Top 3):

1. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta S2000 1hour 19mins 35.1secs S
2. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 00mins 55.3secs S
3. Bernardo Sousa Ford Fiesta S2000 02mins 30.8secs S

PWRC Standings after Stage 10 / Day 1 (Top 3):

1. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza STi 1hour 21mins 49.3secs P
2. Hayden Paddon Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +02mins 00.8secs P
3. Paulo Nobre Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +06mins 03.4secs P

Notable retirements:

SS3. Khalid Al-Qassmi BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC Rolled M
SS4. Toshi Arai Subaru Impreza WRC STi Accident P

all times unofficial