BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Jari-Matti Latvala leads Wales Rally GB after a powerful performance over this morning's three opening gravel tests in mid-Wales.

Latvala was fastest on two of the three special stages to take a narrow 1.4sec advantage in his Ford Focus RS WRC car, amid wild and windy conditions in the rain-soaked forests.

After last night's short opening stage along the windswept waterfront in the rally's host city of Cardiff, competitors re-started early this morning for the 160km journey north to Hafren Forest. Latvala was fastest in the 32.14km test to climb from fifth into a 1.0sec lead. He dropped a handful of seconds in the following 4.26km Sweet Lamb after the engine in his Focus RS WRC took in water at a river crossing and he slid to third. But fastest in the 27.88km Myherin put the 25-year-old back on top.

"The lead is still slender, but it was a good start," said Latvala. "The grip changed constantly. Sometimes the road was soft and gave good grip, but in other places the surface was hard and polished, and I drove closer to the ditches to try to find better traction.

"My only problem was in Sweet Lamb when the engine took in some water. The section after the watersplash was uphill and it took about 500 metres to clear itself and run properly again. I need to brake more at that point this afternoon."

Sebastien Loeb meanwhile, who set the pace in the short Cardiff Bay Super Special stage last night, was passed on the first 'proper' stage by both Latvala and Citroen privateer Petter Solberg. Loeb fought back though in SS3 and re-took the lead, before finally finishing the loop 1.4 seconds back in third.

"The conditions are really difficult," Loeb said. "Finding good grip is like looking for a needle in a haystack! In the two long stages I made a good start but I lost the rhythm after a few scares."

Petter Solberg completes the top three, just 0.5 seconds further back, having been second quickest in both SS2 and SS3 and third in SS4: "We should have been quicker in that last stage as I like it a lot. We're happy enough with that time, though," said 'Hollywood' after Myherin 1.

Next up was Sebastien Ogier, who is with the Citroen 'A' team for this event, and despite making a solid start - he is only 5.2 seconds off a place on the podium - he wasn't particularly happy: "I took a little time to build up my confidence," Ogier admitted. "The grip isn't constant and it's not that easy to really let go and bang in the times. I don't have to take risks and I'm still in touch. I'm trying to drive an intelligent race."

Dani Sordo and Mikko Hirvonen complete the top six, split by 2 seconds. Both though, are already struggling to stay with the top three: "There's a lot of mud about," said Sordo. "It's difficult to read the road to find grip. I'm going to try and do a little better this afternoon."

Hirvonen was a bit more mystified by his lack of pace: "The car was great and I felt I drove really well, but the times were disappointing," he added. "My road position isn't so good and the surface is quite polished, so perhaps that's why I dropped some seconds. Conditions will be more equal when we repeat the stages this afternoon, so hopefully I can regain time. It's strange because everything felt so good."

Of the rest, Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg came in seventh ahead of Mads Ostberg and Britain's Matthew Wilson. F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen, rounded out the top ten, with Ken Block eleventh.

"It's really difficult, as the roads are incredibly slippery," said Raikkonen. "I'm not pleased with how I drove in the last stage. I hope I'll do better in the second loop. What's positive is that I'm happy with the notes."

In the support categories, Andreas Mikkelsen has taken the lead in the SWRC, while Patrik Flodin holds P1 in the PWRC. There were no notable retirements.

The action now continues this afternoon with a repeat run through this morning's tests. SS5, Hafren 1, starts at 13.51 hours local time.

Wales Rally GB: Overall standings after Stage 4 (Top 10):

1. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 38mins 33.0secs M
2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00min 01.4secs M
3. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +00mins 01.9secs A8
4. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 07.1secs M
5. Dani Sordo Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +00mins 23.7secs M
6. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 25.7secs M
7. Henning Solberg Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus RS WRC +01mins 20.9secs M
8. Mads Ostberg Subaru Impreza WRC +01mins 38.8secs A8
9. Matthew Wilson Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +01mins 45.7secs M
10. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +02mins 17.5secs M

Other:

11. Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Focus WRC +02mins 23.0secs A8
12. Andreas Mikkelsen Skoda Fabia S2000 +02mins 23.9secs S

SWRC Standings after Stage 4 (Top 3):

1. Andreas Mikkelsen Skoda Fabia S2000 40mins 56.9secs S
2. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 12.3secs S
3. Patrik Sandell Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 26.3secs S

PWRC Standings after Stage 4 (Top 3):

1. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza STi 42mins 27.3secs P
2. Martin Semerad Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +00mins 46.1secs P
3. Armindo Araujo Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +00mins 47.0secs P

Notable retirements:

None.

all times unofficial

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