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.
“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 Séb," 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.