BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen put in a dominant performance on the opening day of the Pioneer Rally Japan to finish the opening leg with a very solid 26.2 second advantage.

Mikko was fastest over two of the morning's three stages to open a 6.9 second lead over his team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala by the time the cars returned to Sapporo for the mid-day service.

He was then quickest through both the afternoon tests over the same roads, before winning the two passes over the Dome super special, for a tally of six wins from seven stages.

"Today was soft, narrow and twisty but everything felt good so I pushed hard all day. It was cold and muddy in the opening stage this morning, so cold that I never really got any heat into the tyres, although the grip was still consistently good," said the 28-year-old. "I didn't expect so much snow there and in some places when I cut a corner, it came over the car.

"This afternoon the roads were really rutted but I expected them to be worse. It was difficult to drive because the ruts were so deep. But I had a clear run and everything went smoothly.

"Tomorrow's stages are wider and faster. There was a lot of loose gravel on the surface during the recce so I hope it continues to rain tonight to dampen everything down because first in the start order won't be the best place to be otherwise. The stages will require a different rhythm from today and I hope I can find that immediately."

Despite his run though, he did have one scare and he had to do a quick tyre change in between SS9 and SS10.

"It was a very strange day with many things happening. We had some fears in the end because of a puncture in the super special stage - we had to change the wheel in less than two minutes in order to start the second run without a penalty, but we made it," he continued. "Overall I did my job today and Jari Matti is still very close so tomorrow we will have to stay awake."

Latvala meanwhile also had a pretty strong run on his return to the Blue Oval's 'A' team and will go into day two with a 4.1 second lead over Citroen's Sebastien Loeb in third.

Ford boss Malcolm Wilson branded it 'a perfect day' for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, although Francois Duval's accident was a blow, as potentially the Belgian could have deprived Loeb of points.

"We had no issues with the cars on what was one of the most challenging days' driving of the season. The drivers had wet, dry and snow to contend with and both Mikko and Jari-Matti dealt with the conditions in a highly mature fashion," Wilson Sr summed-up.



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