M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team man Mads Ostberg remains in the lead of Rally Sweden at the end of the opening day, although Mikko Hirvonen closed the gap this afternoon.

Ostberg grabbed top spot immediately this morning and won two of the three tests to go into the mid-day service with a 24.8 second cushion. The Norwegian, who is battling to secure his maiden WRC win, then stretched his advantage to 32.8 seconds on the repeat-run through Varg?sen, SS5, when he was joint quickest with P-G Andersson. Although he was only eighth in SS6, Hirvonen was only a couple of seconds quicker, and so he remained 29.5 seconds ahead.

However on the final test, SS7, the 19.26 km L?vhaugen 2 test, Ostberg lost out after the lightpod on his Fiesta RS WRC got dislodged early on. Subsequently he was 22.5 seconds off the pace and only seventh quickest, conceding 14.7 seconds to Hirvonen. He will now go into day two with his lead cut to 14.8 seconds.

"I've never been in this position but it feels great - I could definitely get used to it! We had a very good morning and the car was running perfectly but I lost some time this afternoon which is a little disappointing," Ostberg reflected.

"I'm going to be first on the road tomorrow which is a disadvantage so I really wanted to make as big a gap as possible to try and take off some pressure tomorrow morning.

"The last stage today was just unbelievable - I hit a dip about 2 km in and knocked the front light pod so it was pointing at a funny angle. It was a nightmare to try and drive without proper lighting and I couldn't see much but I was still trying to push. In my head, there is no such thing as tactics - I just go at my own speed and enjoy it but tomorrow I will be on maximum attack."

Petter Solberg meanwhile remains on course for the final place on the podium in his privately entered Citroen DS3 WRC, although he has slipped further behind the battle for P1. Indeed he is now 57.4 seconds off Ostberg and 42.6 seconds behind Hirvonen: "I had some ice on the inside of the windshield [on the final test]. [Overall though] it has been a good day," Solberg said.

Jari-Matti Latvala is next up and having lost time with a spin in the final stage this morning, he managed to re-gain some ground on the repeat loop, setting the pace in the last test of the day to close to within 12.6 seconds of 'Hollywood'.

"I hit the snow again on the opening stage this afternoon, but got away with it," Latvala revealed. "It was the third time I was lucky. In these conditions it's vital to be confident and committed, and if you are then there will be occasions when you hit snow banks. I feel 100 percent confident with the car, so I must accept that there are occasions when this will happen."

Behind, Henning Solberg is just 10.3 seconds further back and he would have been even closer had he not picked up a 10 second penalty for a jump start before SS6.

"The car set-up has been running much better this afternoon - we made some changes in service and now everything is feeling a lot nicer," Henning commented. "I'm having a lot of fun on these stages but I'm pushing all the time.

"The road conditions were also a lot smoother this afternoon - it stopped snowing just before Stage 5 and I'm starting to get used to the car now. I like the Fiesta RS WRC a lot, it's really fun to drive and now that the set-up is working well I think that tomorrow will be another good day for us."

Sebastien Ogier completes the top six and he was a lot more comfortable on the repeat loop. Indeed he led the way in SS6 to give the new Citroen DS3 WRC it's very first stage win: "We had a difficult time in the morning but now we are more confident," Ogier confirmed. "Tomorrow will be an interesting day."

Fellow Citroen 'works' driver and team-mate Sebastien Loeb didn't have such a good afternoon though, with a front puncture in the final test, SS7, costing him more than a minute. The seven-time World Rally champion now lies down in ninth, 4.9 seconds off Eyvind Brynildsen's Skoda Fabia S2000 in eighth. Patrik Sandell is seventh, also in a Skoda Fabia S2000, and 8.4 seconds further up the road.

Of the rest, Khalid Al-Qassimi is currently on course to score the final WRC point in tenth, 1.3 seconds up on F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen had been comfortably ahead, but a spin and a puncture in SS6 dropped him back.

"There is a big difference with this car [compared to the C4 WRC] but I like this one very much, it is really nice," Raikkonen stated.

P-G Andersson, who led overnight, but who rolled and had a puncture this morning, has now hauled himself up from 21st to 12th, with PWRC front runners, Anders Grondal and Patrik Flodin 13th and 14th respectively, split by 22.3 seconds.

Britain's Matt Wilson is 15th, and was closer to the pace this afternoon after complaining of power steering problems in the morning. He was 13th in SS5, and ninth in SS6 and SS7.

"The difference between this afternoon compared to this morning is like night and day," Wilson revealed. "After the changes we made at service, I felt like I was driving a different car so it's taken me a bit of time to get used to everything.

"The grip is a lot better and it feels amazing to be able to slide the car and for it not to stiffen up like it did this morning. Everything is running a lot smoother. The last stage was difficult - the lights were moving all over the place because the conditions were so rough but it's been an OK day. I'll be looking to step up the pace tomorrow now that I'm feeling more comfortable with the car set-up."

The action now continues on Saturday with 127.50 competitive kilometres on the bill - and nine separate stages. SS8, the 15.00 kilometre-run through Lesj?fors 1, begins at 08.00 hours local time.

Rally Sweden: Overall standings after Stage 7 (Top 10):

1. Mads Ostberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC 1hour 17mins 21.2secs M
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 14.8secs M
3. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 57.4secs A1
4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 10.0secs M
5. Henning Solberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 20.3secs M
6. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +01mins 21.6secs M
7. Patrik Sandell Skoda Fabia S2000 +02mins 35.1secs A2
8. Eyvind Brynildsen Skoda Fabia S2000 +02mins 43.5secs A2
9. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +02mins 48.4secs M
10. Khalid Al-Qassimi Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 12.4secs A1

Others:

11. Kimi Raikkonen ICE 1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC +04mins 13.7secs M
12. PG Andersson Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 29.8secs A1
13. Anders Grondal Subaru Impreza STi +04mins 30.3secs P
14. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza STi +04mins 52.6secs P
15. Matt Wilson M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 14.4secs A1
16. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 +05mins 35.0secs A2
17. Denis Kuipers FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 36.8secs M
18. Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +06mins 38.8secs M

PWRC standings after Stage 7 (Top 3):

1. Anders Grondal Subaru Impreza STi 1hour 21mins 51.5secs P
2. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza STi +00mins 22.3secs P
3. Dmitriy Tagirov Subaru Impreza STi +02mins 55.2secs P

Notable retirements:

None.

all times unofficial