BP Ford Abu Dhabi man Jari-Matti Latvala has taken the lead of Rally Japan following the opening loop this morning and he now heads Sebastien Ogier by 1.6 seconds.

Latvala, who finished the first leg in fourth, was third through the first test of the day, the 17.68km Nikara Short. He then went quickest in SS12, the 33.73km Kamuycep stage, to climb to second. The 25-year-old Finn completed the loop with fourth in the 9.55km Kina, to head back to the Sapporo service park having closed the gap to leader Petter Solberg from 22.4 seconds to just 5.9 seconds.

However, as the drivers reached Sapporo, Solberg was handed a 10 second penalty for a jump start in Kina promoting Latvala up into P1.

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"I love these close fights!" Latvala said. "Petter's penalty makes the battle even closer and more interesting. My start position has helped this morning. I thought road position wouldn't make much difference today but the last two stages in particular had a lot of loose gravel on the surface. The guys ahead of me had to sweep that gravel off the road and I had a cleaner and faster line. I nudged a soft bank in the last stage and I need to be careful not to go over the limit."

Pressed on what had happened in SS13, Latvala conceded he had been fortunate not to lose a lot of time: "I did a mistake during the recce of SS13. One pace note was too optimistic and [as I said] I hit a bank," he explained. "I have been lucky. The back left tyre just got off the rim."

Solberg meanwhile, who is still suffering with a fever, had been happy with his start to the second day and he was quickest in the first test. Although he was then only sixth in SS12 and SS13, struggling running first on the road and sweeping away the loose gravel, he held onto top spot, until getting that penalty.

"The second day started well," he said speaking prior to news he had been demoted to third. "I did good times this morning even though I was first on the road. The long stage [SS12] was really difficult with a lot of gravel. But it's okay. I thought I'd lose more time.

"There is a strong fight between five guys. I expected Latvala and Ogier to be very fast today. So I'm not surprised. I'm getting better and better but I am not really fit. I felt tired at the end of the long stage."

Ogier now finds himself sandwiched between Latvala and Solberg. He was pleased with his morning: "I push hard but I don't take any risks," he explained. "I want to finish this rally. This morning, in the first stage, it was pretty difficult with some deep ruts. I don't like them because I must change my driving style."

Away from the top three, Mikko Hirvonen is fourth, just 1.6 seconds off Solberg and 5.7 seconds off the lead and his BP Ford Abu Dhabi team-mate. He had a spin in Nikara and lost 10 seconds, but he remains upbeat.

"All of us are pushing extremely hard and it will be flat out this afternoon because I can't let anyone get away. I lost time with a spin but I'm still in the fight," he said. "The rear of the car jumped out of a rut and I couldn't turn into the next corner. Rather than try to recover it and risk an accident, I simply let the car spin."

Dani Sordo is next up and fifth, 8.5 seconds further back, and 20.1 seconds up on Sebastien Loeb, who unusually is having a difficult event. Loeb struggled yesterday running first on the road and while he was happier today, he remains in sixth - now 34.3 seconds off the lead.

"All the drivers are going fast in Japan. I can't do anymore," Loeb admitted. "I don't like stages with deep ruts because I can't drive as I normally do on a gravel rally. I'll try again during the second loop and I'll see after the second pass in the long stage what I can expect."

Further down the order, Henning Solberg remains seventh, while F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen has moved up to eighth, 7.8 seconds up on Federico Villagra. SWRC class leader Jari Ketomaa completes the top ten, a minute up on Martin Prokop, who is second in the category and eleventh overall.

As for the PWRC, Patrik Flodin remains in control, now 3 minutes ahead of the Mitsubishi of Hayden Paddon. Michel Jourdain completes the provisional class podium.

In terms of retirements, Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson was the only 'big' casualty, going out near the end of SS11: "I went off in the first stage this morning. The car was stuck in the ditch but there were no spectators around to help us get back onto the road. I should restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules," he explained.

The second leg now continues at 15.09 hours local time, with all three of this morning's tests due to be repeated. The leg concludes with another two runs through the short 1.57 km Sapporo SSS.

Rally Japan: Overall standings after Stage 13 (Top 10):

1. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 1hour 50mins 13.1secs M
2. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 01.6secs M
3. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +00mins 04.1secs A8
4. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 05.7secs M
5. Dani Sordo Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +00mins 14.2secs M
6. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 34.3secs M
7. Henning Solberg Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +01mins 29.1secs M
8. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +05mins 22.3secs M
9. Federico Villagra Munchi's Ford Focus WRC +05mins 30.1secs M
10. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta S2000 +08mins 26.6secs S

SWRC Standings after Stage 13 (Top 3):

1. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta S2000 1hour 58mins 39.7secs S
2. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 01mins 00.8secs S
3. Bernardo Sousa Ford Fiesta S2000 17mins 28.9secs S

PWRC Standings after Stage 13 (Top 3):

1. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza STi 2hours 01mins 48.8secs P
2. Hayden Paddon Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +03mins 34.9secs P
3. Michel Jourdain Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +09mins 11.4secs 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

SS11. Matthew Wilson Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC Went off M

all times unofficial