Citroen's Sebastien Loeb
is firmly in control at the end of day one of the Rally Argentina, having finished proceedings one and a half minutes up on his closest challenger.
It was a very different story, however, to begin with and it was Mikko Hirvonen, who took the initial lead and dominated the opening loop, despite thick fog and lots of sticky mud following heavy overnight rain.
Indeed Mikko was in a class of his own in SS1 and stormed through the 18.70 kilometre run through La Cumbre 1 a massive 48.1 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala, while Seb was 'only' third.
Loeb then lost further ground in SS2, SS3 and SS4 and while he moved up into P2, following Latvala's off in Ascochinga 1, the Frenchman couldn't match Mikko, who notched up two more stages wins and went into the mid-day halt with a 50.8 second cushion.
On the repeat loop in the afternoon though, Seb soon inherited the lead when Hirvonen hit a rock in the first stage after service and was unable to continue after damaging his suspension.
The four-time world champion then paced himself through SS6 and SS7, setting two fifth fastest efforts to maintain his 50 second advantage over Chris Atkinson. In the final 'proper' test though the Frenchman was more than 40 seconds faster after the Aussie made an error and following the super special he ended the leg with a 1 minute 30.6 second lead.
"I am pleased with the way the day went but this rally is far from over,” said the Citroen
man in service B. “So much can still happen and the stages promise to stay treacherous all the way through to Sunday afternoon."
Atkinson meanwhile while pleased to end the leg on course to match his best result to date, was not happy about having had two spins in La Cumbre 2, especially as it means Petter Solberg
is that bit closer, just 8.3 seconds back in the sister SWRT-run Impreza.
“Today has been tough but I'm pleased with second place,” Chris reflected. “I made a mistake on stage eight and we lost quite a bit of time so the gap to Petter is much smaller now. You really kick yourself when you give away that much time, but that's what can happen in these conditions.”