Mikko Hirvonen has ended day one of Rally Poland in a strong position - leading the way and currently on course to overhaul Sebastien Loeb in the drivers' standings after the Frenchman made another error and crashed out.

Hirvonen grabbed P1 this morning in SS3, after taking his second stage win on the trot. The Finn then saw his advantage go up to 2.4 seconds, when Loeb went off and hit a tree stump early on in Paprotki 1 - the longest test of the event at 33.17 kilometres.

On the repeat loop in the afternoon, Mikko came under a bit of pressure in the first test, when his team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala topped the times and cut the gap to 1.4 seconds.

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However a flier of a time in SS6 allowed Hirvonen to pull out a cushion, and he subsequently finished the day 8.9 seconds in front.

"I want ten points from here and after Loeb's accident I must think about the championship now," said Hirvonen, who lies second in the drivers' standings, seven points behind the Frenchman. "After I saw Loeb's car I eased my pace because I didn't want to make the same mistake. I had marked the tree stump that he hit in my pace notes and actually discussed it with Jari-Matti before we started this morning.

"It's a new rally with new pace notes so that kind of accident can happen to anyone. I can't afford to do anything stupid now. We must take full advantage of this situation over the next two days."

Latvala meanwhile also enjoyed a strong day in the sister BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT entry, and like Mikko won three stages to give the 'Blue Oval' a clean sweep of the days tests.

Jari-Matti struggled a bit initially and was 'only' third in the opening two tests, before he got in the groove and was more or less able to match Mikko, except for in the second run through Pianki.

"My feeling with the car improved as the day went on," said Latvala. "I dropped time to Mikko on the penultimate stage [SS6]. I thought I had driven perfectly but he was more than eight seconds faster. It was the most incredible time.

"We all want a one-two finish with the championship in mind, so we have to be sensible and not become drawn into a pointless fight with Mikko. But Dani Sordo will put the pressure on tomorrow so we need to keep a fast pace."

With Loeb out, it was left to Dani Sordo to fly the flag for the Citroen Total WRT and he finished proceedings in third - albeit 28.1 seconds adrift of P2.

Next up was Petter Solberg in his privately-run Citroen Xsara WRC. The Norwegian, who led after winning the short super special on Thursday night, was pretty strong and he was fifth fastest in four of the day's six tests.

Henning Solberg trails his brother - 6.9 seconds between the two. Henning had been in sixth but gained a place in the final stage when Andreas Mikkelsen was slowed by engine problems. Mikkelsen had been at the top end of the leaderboard in his Skoda Fabia WRC until mechanical gremlins struck in Paprotki 2.

Henning meanwhile also had issues this afternoon: "We dropped some time on SS5 when we slid into a ditch briefly, but we had a great time on the last stage finishing just behind Dani Sordo which gives us a lot of confidence for tomorrow," he reflected.

"It's been a tough day and I've struggled with the feeling of the car, but during service the mechanics made it stiffer and that has helped."

Further down the order, Sebastien Ogier came in sixth, while Britain's Matthew Wilson was seventh and Conrad Rautenbach eighth.

Krzysztof Holowczyc and Mads Ostberg round out the top ten, the former 8.3 seconds off Rautenbach and the final points' position on his 'guest' outing with the Stobart Ford squad.

"This morning went well for us and we had a good start," said Holowczyc, who is the local star. "It was fantastic to see lots of fans cheering for us. I was very surprised with the roads for the second pass this afternoon as I had expected the conditions to be much worse.

"The car feels strong and we don't plan to make any changes to it. We've had a good run today after getting into the rhythm this morning and I'm really pleased with the way our splits improved this afternoon."

Of the rest, Michal Bebenek is just outside the top ten in P11 and currently on top in the Group N class in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. Maciej Oleksowicz trails him, over a minute further back - and 12th overall.

In the Junior World Rally Championship category, Kevin Abbring is out front, having posted the top JWRC time in five of the day's six stages. Abbring goes into the final service 27 seconds up on Michal Kosciuszko's Suzuki Swift.

Martin Prokop completes the JWRC top-three, 7.1 seconds further back, with Yoaan Bonato fourth and Hans Weijs fifth.

As for retirements, in addition to Loeb, Citroen Junior Team man, Evgeny Novikov was the only other major casualty. He also retired from day 1 after problems in Paprotki 1.

Loeb will now re-start on Saturday under the SupeRally and the Frenchman concedes it is going to be a long event for him as he bids to try and get manufacturers' points for Citroen.

"It's often said in France that you never get two in a row, without a third, and today's incident is our third setback in succession," said Loeb. "There was a tree stump on our line and we hit it. It wasn't in our pacenotes, and neither Dani Sordo nor S?bastien Ogier had noted it either. You can't see it on the video. It's just bad luck.

"We will now rejoin tomorrow thanks to the SupeRally ruling, but with a 20-minute penalty. It's obviously not all that stimulating a prospect but we've still got a chance to pick up some Manufacturers' points."

The action now resumes on Saturday, with another three stages on the bill, each to be run twice. Day two is the longest of the event and almost 150 competitive kilometres lie in wait. SS8, the 11.88 kilometre Danowo test, begins at 09.14 hours local time.