Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier heads the leaderboard at the close of day one of Rally Italia Sardegna.

Ogier was immediately fastest out of the blocks this morning, winning two of the first three stages to build a 20.5 second advantage.

He then doubled that cushion on the repeat loop this afternoon and after setting the second and third fastest times on the two night time runs through the 13.55 km Gallura test, he heads back to service 46.6 seconds up on Citroen driver Mikko Hirvonen.

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"That was a very good first day for us, but we're still only half way through," said Ogier. "The Polo R WRC is running like a dream, and we didn't have a single problem with it today. And the conditions certainly aren't easy - the gravel stages were especially slippery this morning. My driving style which isn't too hard on the tyres no doubt helped me to extend my lead today.

"The tyres are really put to the test in extreme temperatures like today's. I tried to drive as smoothly and as foresightedly as possible, and not to brake too aggressively. In general, it was important for me not to take too many risks - and that will be my strategy for tomorrow too. Nevertheless, after two rallies without a win, I really want to experience that sensation again of being the one at the top of that podium.

"For me, one of the real highlights was 'Micky's Jump' on the Monte Lerno stage, which was undoubtedly one of the most spectacular and highest jumps of the season. You can't recoup any lost time there, but it looks great for the spectators and we drivers love it when we go flying like that too. It's a fantastic feeling!"

Behind, Hirvonen and Qatar WRT man Thierry Neuville are locked in a good scrap for the runners-up spot. Neuville moved up from fifth to third on the second loop. The Belgian then lost time to Hirvonen in SS7 tonight, but the second quickest time in SS8 - the final test of the day - saw him close back up and now just 3.1 seconds separates them.

"As with the last two rallies, our aim here was just to get to the finish and I think it's paying off again," Neuville said. "Obviously we had a very good feeling with the car today. Everything is working really well so we said it would be stupid to slow down when there was no reason to do so and no big risks with the driving. When the times are good and we don't feel on the edge, there is no point in losing the rhythm and risking a loss of concentration."

Dani Sordo lies fourth, albeit 29.7 seconds back in his Citroen DS3 WRC, while Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala has recovered from his puncture in SS1 - something that cost him over 2 minutes - to hold P5, 1m 44s off the lead.

"The day was actually very good - we were the fastest in the field along with S?b," Latvala noted. "If only we hadn't had that flat tyre in the first stage. There were jagged rocks sticking out of the ground along the sides of the course after about five kilometres, and they were obviously what damaged our tyre. The tyre went flat, but we decided to carry on anyway. If we had changed the tyre, we would have had to have gone back in behind the first WRC-2 car, which had started only a minute behind us - and driving in a cloud of dust would have robbed us of even more time.

"We gained a lot of ground in the course of the day thanks to our good times, and tomorrow we will again try to gather pace and not leave the teams in front of us in peace. The icing on the cake was the two final stages today - the best I've had since I've been driving the Polo."

Further back, Andreas Mikkelsen is sixth in the third works Polo R WRC, followed by Martin Prokop, Michal Kosciuszko and Elfyn Evans, the latter making his debut this weekend in a World Rally Car.

"We've had a lot of new things to deal with today - new car, new co-driver, new rally - so pretty much everything was new!" Evans joked. "It was a big challenge, but a great opportunity and throughout the day with learnt a lot about the car and a lot about each other.

"I'm really looking forward to tomorrow now. We'll just try to stick with what we've got now. We definitely don't want to go backwards, but if we can keep improving step by step that would be good. Our main focus was always just to finish the rally, and that won't change tomorrow - hopefully we can continue to improve along the way.

"There isn't a big gap up to eighth, but we promised ourselves before we got here that we weren't going to look at times. We'll just concentrate on doing our own thing, try to improve further and just see what that brings."

Former F1 winner Robert Kubica completes the top ten, and is seemingly poised to repeat what he did in Greece, by winning the WRC2 class again. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari is second in WRC2, 1min 11.8sec back, while Stephane Consani heads WRC3.

"The most difficult thing was to manage the dust," Kubica noted. "The FIA want to improve safety and yet they send us out with one minute between drivers. I lost a lot of time in these dangerous conditions, but apart from that, it went pretty well."

In terms of retirements, Sardinia has claimed three major casualties, with Mads Ostberg joining Evgeny Novikov and Per-Gunnar Andersson on the sidelines this evening after he rolled his Qatar M-Sport WRT-run Fiesta RS WRC in SS8. Novikov had crashed out in SS2, while Andersson was sidelined by driveshaft issues on the middle loop.

Rally Italia Sardegna now concludes on Saturday, with four different stages on the bill, all to be run twice.

SS9, the 19.27 kilometre Monte Olia 1, is due to start at 08.06 hours local time [07.06 hours UK time].

Rally Italia Sardgena: Overall standings after Stage 8 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 1hour 40mins 47.3secs M
2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +46.6s M
3. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +49.7s M
4. Dani Sordo Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +1m 19.4s M
5. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +1m 44.0s M
6. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +1m 55.4s M
7. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +4m 50.4s M
8. Michal Kosciuszko Lotos Team WRC Ford Fiesta RS WRC +6m 25.6s M
9. Elfyn Evans Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +6m 34.5s M
10. Robert Kubica Citroen DS3 RRC +8m 35.3s WRC2


11. Khalid Al-Qassimi Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +8m 40.2s M
12. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari Ford Fiesta RRC +9m 47.1s WRC2
13. Lorenzo Bertelli Ford Fiesta RRC +10m 46.7s WRC2
14. Nicolas Fuchs Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +12m 17.9s WRC2
15. Armin Kremer Subaru Impreza WRX +12m 43.1s WRC2

WRC2 standings after Stage 8 (Top 3):

1. Robert Kubica Citroen DS3 RRC 1hour 49mins 22.6secs WRC2
2. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari Ford Fiesta RRC +1m 11.8s WRC2
3. Lorenzo Bertelli Ford Fiesta RRC +2m 11.4s WRC2

WRC3 standings after Stage 8 (Top 3):

1. Stephane Consani Citroen DS3 R3T 1hour 55mins 57.0s WRC3
2. Christian Riedemann Citroen DS3 R3T +16.1s WRC3
3. Sebastien Chardonnet Citroen DS3 R3T +26.2s WRC3

Notable retirements:

SS2. Evgeny Novikov Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Rolled M
SS6. Per-Gunnar Andersson Ford Fiesta RS WRC Mechanical
SS8. Mads Ostberg Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Rolled M

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

all times unofficial