Citroen's Daniel Sordo leads the inaugural Rally Ireland following the opening loop on Friday morning.

Sordo lost out to his team-mate, Sebastien Loeb on SS2 but then set the pace in both SS3 and SS4, closing to within 0.5 seconds of the triple world champion in Arigna 1 and then overhauling him in the 20.57 kilometre-run through Lough Gill 1.

Sordo now returns to Sligo and the first service of the day with a 2.2 second lead in his C4 WRC.

Loeb had to struggle through the loop with a rear left suspension problem that struck before he had even started SS2. Despite that though he still managed to set the pace in Geevagh 1 and posted the second best times in SS3 and SS4.

"On the road section of the first stage the reservoir failed and oil escaped," Seb explained. "The car was handling badly for three stages. I joked with my co-driver 'we may as well go home now as this is not going to be our rally', but that all changed when Gronholm retired."

BP Ford's Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile now lies third, after Marcus Gronholm crashed out in the sister car near the end of Lough Gill 1.

The two-time world champion spun off and into a wall with just 3 kilometres of the stage to go. He and co-driver Timo Rautiainen were not injured in the incident, but both were taken to Sligo General Hospital for checks.

SS4 was subsequently stopped and notional times were given to those competitors that did not complete the stage.

Further down the order, Stobart Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala and Subaru's Petter Solberg complete the top five, although the latter is now more than a minute off the lead.

Petter had a tough morning and was slowed by mechanical problems: "The conditions are incredibly difficult out there but the main problem we had was a misfire from the engine," said 'Hollywood' in service A.

"I noticed it before the first stage; the engine was missing quite a lot, so I couldn't push as hard as I wanted to. Apart from that it's been okay, our tyre choice was good and we won't be making any big set-up changes for the afternoon.

"You can see from the problems other drivers are having how tricky it is already, and it'll be worse for the repeat loop. When it's as bad as this there's no option but to drive like my grandmother."

Of the rest Henning Solberg is next up, while Kris Meeke and Guy Wilks round out the provisional points' scorers, followed by OMV Kronos Citroen's Manfred Stohl and Matthew Wilson.

In the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship category, Mark Higgins is on course for the win he needs to keep his title hopes alive. Andreas Aigner is second, 7.3 seconds behind, while Armindo Araujo, Leszek Kuzaj and Niall McShea round out the top five.

In terms of retirees, in addition to Gronholm, Subaru's 'third' driver Xavier Pons also went out in SS4 after an accident 5 kilometres from the start. Chris Atkinson had problems in that test too and lost around 20 minutes.

"The accident happened at the 15km point of SS4, on a very slippery right hand bend. It was a fourth gear corner and I was going too fast, and the car under-steered straight on into a fence and a mud bank," explained the Aussie.

"That's about it. We were stuck there for a while, whilst we changed a wheel and made some repairs, but we were able to get going again and get the car back to service. The conditions out there are unreal."

All three of this morning's stages will now be repeated to make up the second loop.

More to follow then...

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