Subaru team leader Petter Solberg
has taken the early advantage in Japan following leg 1, the Norwegian heads the field by 12.7 seconds, after having set the quickest times in four of the day's nine special stages.
'Hollywood' who suffered a huge accident in Germany two weeks ago, admitted that he needed to regain his confidence.
"It's been a tough day but things have gone really well. The car has been perfect, no problems at all," he said. "Perhaps I took a little bit of a wrong tyre choice for those last stages, but I can't complain. I'm just really pleased that my confidence in driving is back to normal and we've got a good chance for this rally."
Sebastien Loeb meanwhile is second despite having to 'sweep' the road, due to his start position. The Frenchman also notched up four quickest stage times, as he seeks to strengthen his grip on the 2004 drivers' title, which he currently leads by 29 points.
"A good day, we are on the pace of the fastest cars and I believe we can do well," he noted. "I think tyre choice will be the key point for tomorrow."
Marcus Gronholm completes the provisional podium, 17.8 seconds adrift of the leader in his Peugeot 307 WRC, and currently the only other 'real' contender for the victory.
"So far it's been very good," he stated. "I like the stages here: they are quite fast and you need to attack. Unfortunately I had a soft brake pedal that meant that I couldn't push as hard as I wanted. Nonetheless, I think I have found a good rhythm with the car and the event now. We're looking competitive, and my plan is to build on that."
Ford duo Markko Martin and Francois Duval are fourth and sixth respectively, both over a minute off the pace after having had difficulties with their pace notes.
"Our pace notes were horrible," said Martin, "and Beef [Michael Park] spent 50 per cent of the time calling the notes and the other 50 percent writing changes. As an example, on the third stage we had a fifth gear corner in the notes and it was no more than third gear. That was scary and I eased off after that. We weren't confident of what lay on the inside and the outside of bends so it was hard to slide the car or make cuts."
Citroen's Carlos Sainz lies fifth sandwiched between the two Fords. He was the only other driver to win a stage, the Spaniard taking the honours on the final test of the day, the super special - Sataunai 1.