Subaru's Petter Solberg has lost the lead of the Corona Rally Mexico after stewards handed him a five-minute penalty for an incident in the time control before the final service.

Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills were struggling to push their car the last few yards into service after it suffered a flat battery, when a group of bystanders helped, even though neither crewmember had asked for assistance. This extra help contravened WRC regulations.

Prior to that the Norwegian had been leading by 5.6 seconds, giving the new Subaru Impreza WRC2004 an impressive debut.

"I'm extremely disappointed by what has happened," noted 'Hollywood'. "It's almost unbelievable. Everything was going so well on the stages that to lose all that good work like this, when we were returning the car at the end of the day, is tough to accept.

"Up to this point we had really had a good day. The stages were very difficult, some fast, some slow, I think we had a bit of everything, but there were no major problems. I was looking forward to a good fight with Sebastien [Loeb] and Marcus [Gronholm] tomorrow, but now it's just about getting experience."

Team-mate Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile in the sister Impeza ended the day in seventh place, well placed ahead of tomorrow's action.

"This is the first time I've driven on a loose surface event with the Impreza and my strategy was to start at a steady pace and build experience of the car in these conditions," he said, "Things started well and I was happier with my performance on the first two stages than those this afternoon. I found it hard on SS3 and SS4 to find a pace that I felt good with. But, I'm hoping that I'll be able to increase the pace a little tomorrow."

Team boss David Lapworth was annoyed with the penalty, especially after Solberg and the new Impreza had gone so well.

"The five minute penalty is a bitter pill to swallow after such a perfect start to the event," he concluded, "The new car had lived up to our expectations and Petter had driven really well, ending the day perfectly poised for tomorrow. Clearly our objectives for this rally have now changed. We have to make sure Petter gets experience of all stages so we can put the record straight next year and salvage as many points as possible over the next two days."