BP Ford's Mikko Hirvonen
concluded day 1 of the Rally Japan on Friday on top having seized the lead in the afternoon loop.
Mikko began the opening leg with the fourth best time in SS1, before moving up to third overall in SS2 and then second in SS4, following the retirement of his team-mate, Marcus Gronholm.
Heading into the mid-day service he trailed Ford 'B' team member, Jari-Matti Latvala
by 5 seconds.
Hirvonen though put in a push in the afternoon, overhauling Latvala in SS7, when he posted his first stage win of the event. Mikko then proceeded to pull away from Latvala and Sebastien Loeb
in SS7 and SS8 and following the two runs through the Obihiro super special stages ended the leg with a 10.3 second advantage.
The BP Ford
number two driver was happy with his performance: "It's been a good day. A ten seconds lead is something but for sure it's not enough," he noted. "Tomorrow is the hardest day with the longest stage of the event and lots of mileage with the same tyres."
Loeb meanwhile, who now looks well placed to take the lead in the drivers' championship after Marcus' error, moved up into second in the penultimate test.
The Frenchman though wasn't overly pleased happy and complained of understeer: "We can say, on one side it has been a good day because we have now a good chance to lead the championship after this rally but I'm not satisfied with my driving. The set up of the car is not perfect. There is understeer and I cannot keep the car in line," revealed the Citroen
Latvala for his part was delighted to end the day on course for the final place on the podium and the fact he is also only 13.7 seconds off the lead – and only 3.4 seconds off the runners-up spot - bodes well.
The Finn set good stage times throughout the leg, posting top-three efforts in every single stage bar one.
Daniel Sordo was next up in fourth, having got the better of Latvala's Stobart
Ford team-mate, Henning Solberg
Dani then proceeded to inch away in his Citroen
C4 WRC ending the day 7.8 seconds up on the Norwegian, who is making his debut in Japan this weekend.
"I'm happy both with the car and with my driving on gravel especially here where the roads are so difficult," noted the Spaniard.
Further down the leaderboard, OMV Kronos Citroen's Manfred Stohl had a solid day and brought his Xsara home in sixth spot, albeit more than 40 seconds behind Sordo and Henning. Manfred reported no problems and was content with his pace.