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.
"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."