Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier leads Rally Italia Sardegna following the opening loop this morning, which saw Evgeny Novikov roll out in SS2, while Jari-Matti Latvala suffered a puncture in SS1.

Ogier, who had been third quickest in qualifying, completed the opening test of the day 5.3 seconds up on Citroen driver Mikko Hirvonen. The Frenchman was then second in SS2, 2.2 seconds behind team-mate Latvala, before the positions were reversed in SS3.

Ogier now heads into the mid-day remote service zone with a 20.5 second advantage: "I'm very happy with my start and to be leading. Furthermore I also won two out of the three stages. It is going very well," he remarked.

Hirvonen meanwhile is 'best of the rest', but while he was right up there in SS1, he struggled a bit in SS2 and SS3, only posting the sixth and fourth quickest times respectively: "It has been OK but it is tricky," stated the Finn. "Ogier is really fast. I feel like pushing hard but [when I do] I start to make small mistakes. For me it is difficult to find a good level of pace. I always push a little bit too much." columnist Mads Ostberg lies third just 4.4 seconds back in his Qatar M-Sport WRT-run Fiesta RS WRC, despite suffering with a fever.

"I'm not feeling 100 per cent this weekend but I think this morning has been OK," Ostberg noted. "I struggled a bit in the first stage [SS1] just to find the rhythm and concentrate properly. But I drove as fast as I could within my confidence limit. It was the same with the second stage [SS2] and I have to really think when listening to the pacenotes.

"But the last one [SS3] was working quite well. It's not as technical as the other two so it is a lot easier to stay focussed. I managed that and we are in a good position. Hopefully I'll get a bit better as the day goes on and we can look to push a bit more."

Behind, Dani Sordo is fourth ahead of Thierry Neuville and VW 'junior' driver, Andreas Mikkelsen in fifth and sixth.

"All okay, I'm driving fast but not overdoing because this is the first time for me on the Castelsardo and Tergu stages as I didn't participate last year," said Sordo, who was third quickest in SS2 and fifth in SS1 and SS3.

Further back, Latvala is down in seventh, having lost almost two minutes in the first test when he hit a rock about 5 kilometres in.

Martin Prokop, Michal Kosciuszko and Elfyn Evans round out the top ten, with former F1 ace Robert Kubica 11th and running at the front in WRC2, 50 seconds up on Sepp Wiegand, his closest class rival. The Pole had a scare in SS3, but survived and was still third fastest of the WRC2 runners.

In terms of retirements, Evgeny Novikov was the most notable casualty, rolling his Fiesta RS WRC in SS2. He had been running third. It is not yet known if he will be able to re-start on Saturday under the Rally 2 regulations.

Day one now continues with a repeat run through this morning's three stages, before competitors face two runs through the 13.55 km Gallura test.

Rally Italia Sardgena: Overall standings after Stage 3 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 39mins 58.6secs M
2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +20.5s M
3. Mads Ostberg Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +24.9s M
4. Dani Sordo Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +32.2s M
5. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +40.3s M
6. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +55.7s M
7. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +1m 54.5s M
8. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 35.1s M
9. Michal Kosciuszko Lotos Team WRC Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 53.7s M
10. Elfyn Evans Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 02.8s M


11. Robert Kubica Citroen DS3 RRC +3m 06.9s WRC2
12. Per-Gunnar Andersson Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 40.6s
13. Khalid Al-Qassimi Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +3m 51.0s M
14. Sepp Wiegand Skoda Fabia S2000 +3m 56.9s WRC2
15. Yuriy Protasov Ford Fiesta RRC +4m 03.7s WRC2

WRC2 standings after Stage 3 (Top 3):

1. Robert Kubica Citroen DS3 RRC 43mins 05.5secs WRC2
2. Sepp Wiegand Skoda Fabia S2000 +50.0s WRC2
3. Yuriy Protasov Ford Fiesta RRC +56.8s WRC2

WRC3 standings after Stage 3 (Top 3):

1. Christian Riedemann Citroen DS3 R3T 45m 28.4s WRC3
2. Stephane Consani Citroen DS3 R3T +48.1s WRC3
3. Quentin Gilbert Citroen DS3 R3T +56.3s WRC3

Notable retirements:

SS2. Evgeny Novikov Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Rolled M

*denotes due to re-start under the Rally 2 regulations

all times unofficial