Citroen's Sebastien Loeb finished in his usual position at the top of the pack - following the opening leg of the Rally d'Italia Sardegna on Friday however, early on things looked a lot different.

On the first loop this morning, Seb struggled somewhat, as he was running first on the road. Consequently he had to sweep away all the loose gravel for his rivals and lost time. In the first test, the 31.13 kilometre run through Crastazza, he conceded 12.4 seconds to Jari-Matti Latvala, who surprised many by setting the early pace for Stobart Ford.

Although the Frenchman bounced back in SS2 and was quickest, he lost more ground in SS3 and returned to the mid-day service halt 10.4 seconds off the lead.

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In the afternoon, Marcus Gronholm quickly took the lead from Latvala with the quickest time in SS4, and while he was second quickest in SS5, shock absorber problems in the final test cost him around 25 seconds and handed Seb the lead.

Loeb had started to claw back some time in the afternoon and two stage wins and a second was good enough, combined with Gronholm's woes, to power the Citroen man into the top position. He will now take a 22.4 second cushion into the second day.

Gronholm meanwhile was disappointed to have lost the lead and conceded that it won't be easy to get it back. He was happy though to have got back to the service and to have minimised the damaged.

Mikko Hirvonen is next up in the sister BP Ford Focus RS WRC. The Finn ended the opening loop in seventh but knew his position was a result of the conditions. He climbed back up the order in the afternoon and thanks to two top three times ended the day on course for the final place on the podium, 6.7 seconds off his team-mate.

Henning Solberg trails Mikko in his Stobart Focus having slipped behind the Finn this afternoon - with just 3.8 seconds between them though it is anything but decided. Henning was buzzing with confidence and he even managed to top the times in SS3.

Further-down the order, Daniel Sordo is fifth in the #2 Citroen C2, although the Spaniard is someway off the battle for third, 45 seconds adrift. The youngster had no real issues but managed to benefit from other people's issues thanks to a steady drive.

One of those to lose out to Sordo was Petter Solberg. Petter had been running as high as third in his Subaru Impreza but thanks to brake problems and a 10 second penalty for leaving the mid-day service late, he lost time and tumbled down the order. He is now sixth, but only 2.6 seconds off Sordo.

Mitsubishi privateer, Toni Gardemeister and OMV Kronos' Manfred Stohl complete the provisional points' scorers in seventh and eighth, separated by more than 30 seconds, while Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson and fellow Ford runner, Gareth MacHale round out the top ten.

In the Junior Rally Championship category, Urmo Aava has been in control and has lead from the off. He won three of the day's six stages and finished proceedings 8.3 seconds up on his Suzuki team-mate, Per-Gunnar Andersson.

The two Swifts have been in a class of their own all day and their nearest threat is Martin Prokop, over 3 minutes further back in his Citroen C2 S1600.

After Prokop, reigning Junior champion, Patrik Sandell ended the day fourth, 30 seconds or so up on Aaron Burkart. Jaan Molder was sixth, while Citroen C2 driver, Conrad Rautenbach and JRC rookie, Shaun Gallagher rounded out the top eight.

During the day there was three significant retirements, with Daniel Carlsson, Chris Atkinson and Jari-Matti Latvala all retiring from the leg. Carlsson pulled out in his OMV Kronos Citroen Xsara before the start of SS1 due to 'personal reasons' [see separate story].

Latvala and Atkinson both went out in SS5 as a result of rock damage. Atkinson had been running in seventh for Subaru, while Jari-Matti was second and on course for the best result in his WRC career to date.

It is not yet known if Latvala and Atkinson will re-start under the SupeRally.

The action now resumes on Saturday. After leaving Olbia at 08.00, drivers face two identical loops of three stages in the Gallura region, close to today's action but further inland.

The day includes the famous 'camel jumps' on the Monte Lerno stage, the middle test of each loop. They return to Olbia for the final overnight halt at 18.45 after 142.72km of competition.