BP Ford's Mikko Hirvonen was in a class of his own on the opening day of the Wales Rally GB, the final round in the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship.

Mikko set the marker right from the off in his Focus RS WRC 07 and while poor weather throughout the day made things extremely difficult, the Finn was in commanding form, 6.5 seconds up Sebastien Loeb, who was 'best of the rest' on the opening stage.

Hirvonen then set the pace again in SS2, the 25.08 kilometre-run through Resolfen, 4.8 seconds up on his team-mate, Marcus Gronholm, to more than double his early lead.

He continued in the same vain in SS3, taking his third stage win on the trot and headed back to service A at the SA1 Swansea Waterfront with a 21.4 second cushion.

Mikko continued to pull away this afternoon and while heavy rain made things even more treacherous, the Finn continued to consolidate his lead, posting another quickest time in SS4 and then a third fastest time in SS5, 2.4 seconds off Loeb and Gronholm, who tied for the quickest time on the second run through Resolfen.

The final test of the day however was probably the hardest for all the runners and not only did they have to contend with fog and rain, but with it now dark, visibility was reduced even more. Mikko though again set the best time, 16.4 seconds up Gronholm and consequently he ended the day 39.6 seconds up on his illustrious team-mate.

"The conditions were terrible," commented Hirvonen, who's best previous result in GB was a seventh place finish three years ago. "I was unable to see even on the straights at times - it's unbelievable.

"I've never experienced anything like it. The fog has been around all day and the rain just got worse and worse making the conditions really, really bad - like a white wall."

Gronholm, who moved ahead of Loeb in SS3 to finish the morning loop just 1 second up on his championship rival, pulled further ahead on the repeat runs and he finished proceedings 18.3 seconds up on the Frenchman.

Like Mikko he felt the conditions were extremely tough: "I don't know who I'm battling with - the other drivers or the weather," he stated. "It's all about staying on the road at the moment and that's hard enough in itself.

"In this event anything can happen - the key is to make sure it doesn't happen to me! I'm not driving at maximum yet - there is more to come from me - I've not had a great feeling, perhaps after crashing in last two rallies. The road conditions are exceptional."

Sebastien Loeb meanwhile who is driving to finish in the top-five to ensure he takes his fourth drivers' title in succession, is well on course to achieve that, over 35 seconds up on Petter Solberg, who is in P4.

Loeb's only real issue occurred in the final test when he had a 'major problem' with his lights: "In some parts of the stage my fog lights didn't work, usually in the bits with fog," he recounted.

"Furthermore even though I don't have to win this rally to win the title, I still need to drive fast to maintain the level of concentration I need to stay in touch with Marcus. This is only the first day - there is a lot of slipping and sliding ahead."

Further down the order, 'Hollywood' also had problems in the final loop and a broken damper slowed him somewhat. Despite that though, the Subaru #1 still gained a place, after Jari-Matti Latvala had windscreen wiper problems in SS6.

The Finn had to stop several times to try sort the issue, but finally got caught out by the poor visibility and went into some logs. He will re-start on Saturday under the SupeRally - albeit now down in 15th place overall.

Daniel Sordo ended the day 5th in his Citroen C4 WRC, a minute or so off Petter, while Matthew Wilson is sixth in the 'third' Stobart Ford entry. The Englishman set top ten times in every single test, bar one, and is currently set to take his third points' finish in succession.

Of the rest, Chris Atkinson and OMV Kronos Citroen's Manfred Stohl round out the provisional points' scorers, the former just 1 second off Wilson in P6.

Xavier Pons and Ford privateer, Andreas Mikkelsen complete the top ten, followed by Jan Kopecky, Mads Ostberg and Guy Wilks.

Wilks, who is entered as a wild-card in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship category, seized the lead from Mark Higgins on the repeat loop this afternoon.

Higgins dropped back in SS4 and SS5 and then lost out to both Gwyndaf Evans and Juho Hanninen in SS6 dropping to P4.

Gabriel Pozzo, who could take the Production title, had a bad day and went out in SS5. He had been running sixth. Assuming he re-starts on Saturday, he will do so from 17th in class and more than 10 minutes off the lead. He has to take the maximum ten points this weekend though to deprive Toshi Arai of his second crown - and that now doesn't look very likely.

In terms of retirees, in addition to Latvala and Pozzo - Henning Solberg and Sebastian Lindholm both had problems and were sidelined.

Lindholm was withdrawn after SS2 after a loose stone thrown up on the first stage damaged a brake pipe on his Suzuki SX4 WRC. Henning, who lost time with a puncture on SS1, went out in the final stage, due to visibility related problems.

The action now continues on Saturday, six 'proper' stages lay in wait, in addition to super special stage at Cardiff's Millennium stadium. SS7, the 19.56 kilometre-run through Crychan 1 gets underway at 09.38 hours local time.