Dani Sordo has finished the opening leg of Rallye de France on top, moving up from third to first in the final stage of the day, when he set the pace in Salm 2.

It was a day of firsts for the MINI World Rally Team and off the back of Sordo's strong third in Germany last month the Spaniard was again on it. Indeed he took the team's first scratch time in SS6 - when he was joint fastest with Petter Solberg - and he then gave MINI an outright stage win in SS8, a result that put the John Cooper Works WRC car at the head of the overall leaderboard for the very first time.

Sordo had run strongly throughout the day and after finishing the morning loop in third, just 6.6 seconds off the lead, he put in a charge on the repeat-runs, eventually ending proceedings 1 second up on Solberg.

"I'm really, really happy," Sordo told the official WRC site. "We have been working so hard for this and now we're in a good place. There are still two days to go but today has been really good. To be leading Citroen at home is very nice."

Solberg, who had moved into the lead in SS7, was also delighted with his day and revealed that he has saved some new tyres for days two and three.

"We pushed very hard. The thing is to go flat out, that's the main thing. There's so much gravel," said the Citroen privateer. "I made one mistake. But I wanted to keep my tyres for the last days so that's why I haven't put new ones on today."

Sebastien Ogier completes the top-three and having increased his mid-day lead from 5 seconds to 7.7 seconds after SS5, he was disappointed to slip back and only be fourth fastest in SS6 and SS7 and third in SS8. The Frenchman complained of a lack of power, but remains well in the hunt, only 1.8 seconds off P2 and 2.8 seconds off the lead, assuming there is nothing sinister wrong with his DS3.

Kris Meeke is next up and fourth in the second MINI WRT John Cooper Works WRC and despite a spin in SS8, he remains ahead of the Ford Abu Dhabi WRT cars of Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen. Both Latvala and Hirvonen lost time this morning in SS3 and Hirvonen had another moment this afternoon in SS7, something that has done little to help his cause.

"There was so much gravel on the road during the long stage this afternoon, it was like sweeping the track on a gravel event," Hirvonen said. "It's a shame about the mistake but tomorrow I need to climb the order and try to take as many points as I can here."

"I feel confident with the car and the new set-up is working well," Latvala added. "We made a big step forward in last week's test, especially with the stability. It's a shame that the leaderboard doesn't truly reflect the performance because without my mistake I could have been leading. Tomorrow's stages are more open and the grip is good, so I want to climb further up the order."

Armindo Araujo, M-Sport Stobart man, Mads Ostberg and Dennis Kuipers lie in positions 7 through to 9, with Henning Solberg now tenth ahead of Evgeny Novikov and SWRC class leader, Ott Tanak. Tanak increased his lead in the SWRC this afternoon from 59.2 seconds post-SS4 to 1 minute 48.7 seconds going into the overnight halt. Eyvind Brynildsen remains second in the class and Martin Prokop lies third.

As for retirees, Sebastien Loeb was the biggest casualty, going out this morning in SS3 due to engine problems. He will not re-start tomorrow, something that looks likely to seriously dent his bid to win the WRC drivers' title for an eighth time.

F1 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen has also gone out, after an incident with Henning Solberg on the road section between SS2 and SS3. Kimi could have rejoined, but has instead elected to go home.

The action now continues on Saturday with 148.39 competitive kilometres on the bill - and nine stages.

SS9, the 9.87 km-run through Hohlandsbourg 1, begins at 08.23 hours local time [07.23 hours UK time].

Rallye de France Alsace: Overall standings after Stage 8 (Top 10):

1. Dani Sordo MINI WRT John Cooper Works 1hour 23mins 02.1secs
2. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 01.0secs M
3. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 02.8secs M
4. Kris Meeke MINI WRT John Cooper Works +00mins 54.5secs
5. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 13.7secs M
6. Mikko Hirvonen Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 20.6secs M
7. Armindo Araujo Motorsport Italia MINI John Cooper Works +02mins 23.1secs
8. Mads Ostberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 36.8secs M
9. Dennis Kuipers FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 46.8secs M
10. Henning Solberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 18.0secs


11. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 22.7secs
12. Ott Tanak Ford Fiesta S2000 +04mins 03.6secs S
13. Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 18.9secs M
14. Pierre Campana Equipe de France FFSA MINI John Cooper Works +04mins 28.4secs
15. Matthew Wilson M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 29.0secs M
16. Khalid Al-Qassimi Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 13.4secs M
22. Daniel Oliviera Brazil WRT MINI John Cooper Works +07mins 54.9secs M
40. Peter van Merksteijn Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC +17mins 31.7secs M

SWRC standings after Stage 8:

1. Ott Tanak Ford Fiesta S2000 1hour 27mins 05.7secs S
2. Eyvind Brynildsen Skoda Fabia S2000 +01mins 48.7secs S
3. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 +01mins 57.5secs S

Notable retirements:

SS1. Frigyes Turan Ford Fiesta S2000 Mechanical S
SS3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC Engine M
SS2/3. Kimi Raikkonen ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC Went off on road section M

all times unofficial