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.”