BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala leads the Corona Rally Mexico following the opening loop on Friday.

Jari took P1 on the very first stage, when he was 3 seconds up on Chris Atkinson, who was 'best of the rest' through the 22.96 kilometre-run through Alfaro 1.

The Finn then set the third best time in SS2, despite a few big moments, before bouncing back in SS3, when he was second quickest - just 0.5 seconds off the stage winner. In the end he finished the loop with a 4.4 second lead.

"I started with plenty of confidence after [winning my first ever WRC event in] Sweden and feel relaxed," he said. "I didn't expect to lead and my pre-event target was to look for a podium. I had some big impacts on stones but Pirelli's tyres stood up well.

"I had a few slides near the start of the second stage and hit the rear right on a bank. I was too late entering a left corner over a crest about 1.5km from the start and slid into the bank. The tyres worked well on the small surface stones but the grip felt different when the stones were bigger."

Sebastien Loeb meanwhile heads the chasing pack, despite his problems on Thursday with his engine. He was only fourth quickest in SS1 but set the pace in both SS2 and SS3 to haul himself up to second overall: "It is a great battle," said the Citroen #1. "The pace is very fast."

Further down the order, Atkinson is third, having capitalised on his better position in the starting order to set the second best time in SS1 and two fourth best efforts in SS2 and SS3.

"We're third at the moment which is ok, but we have a good road position so we need to make the most of that," stated the Subaru #2. "The stages this morning were tricky and even in sixth on the road there were lots of rocks and loose gravel. The stages will be cleaner this afternoon so we will push hard."

Mikko Hirvonen trails the Aussie in fourth and having started first, he was reasonably content with his pace.

"The morning was what I expected," said the 27-year-old. "There was a lot of slippery loose gravel but the surface beneath is hard so it should be OK when we repeat the stages this afternoon.

"It was difficult in the braking areas and the loose gravel meant there was no traction accelerating out of the bends. I hit a small fence at the first braking point in stage two, but it wasn't a problem."

Of the rest, Petter Solberg came in fifth - despite having to struggle with brake problems - while Suzuki's Per-Gunnar Andersson was sixth, followed by Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg.

Gigi Galli and Ricardo Trivino round out the top ten, the former having been third until he got stuck in a ditch in SS3 and lost around 2 minutes, something that dropped him down to ninth.

In the Junior WRC category Sebastien Ogier took the lead from the start and now heads Patrik Sandell by 23.2 seconds. Jaan Molder is third in the Junior class, a further 5.9 seconds back, with Michal Kosciuszko and Aaron Burkart fourth and fifth.

To date there have been three notable retirements - namely Citroen's Dani Sordo, Jan Kopecky and Conrad Rautenbach. Sordo went out in SS1, when he broke his front suspension, while Kopecky was sidelined in the same test in his Fiat Grande Punto S2000 with engine problems. Rautenbach stopped in SS3 - it is not yet known why the Zimbabwean was forced out.

Toni Gardemeister also had a bad start to the event and while he did complete all three stages in his Suzuki SX4 WRC car he was way off the pace due to throttle problems. He finished SS3 more than 15 minutes off a place in the top ten.

The action now resumes at 13.02 hours local time, when all three of this morning's stages will be repeated. The leg is then concluded with two runs through the 2.21 kilometre super special.

More to follow later...



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