Sebastien Ogier leads the Wales Rally GB following the reduced opening loop this morning after what can only be described as a brilliant performance on his first outing in a WRC car.

With SS1 cancelled due to safety concerns, drivers had to wait until Sweet Lamb 1 to begin the event and Ogier made the most of his more favourable position on the road to grab the early lead. Indeed despite treacherous conditions the Frenchman was 5.1 seconds up on Francois Duval, who was 'best of the rest'.

The newly crowned Junior World Rally champion then posted the fifth fastest time in SS3, the 18.28 kilometre-run through Myherin and thus headed into the remote service zone with a 2.3 second cushion over Mads Ostberg.

"For sure, it's a dream start to be leading the rally now," Ogier admitted. "I had a good feeling with this car from the first kilometre I drove it, so that's great, but there is a long way to go."

Mads Ostberg meanwhile was also delighted to be running so high up in his Adapta WRT-run Impreza WRC: "We've been very lucky, because our pre-event test for this event was in full snow! We've had problems with the differential on this car all season, but we seem to be getting there now," said Mads, who was second quickest in both SS2 and SS3.

Jari-Matti Latvala is third for Ford, having hauled himself up from ninth with the quickest time through the reduced 18.28km Myherin 1 test.

"I couldn't see where the slippery parts were in Sweet Lamb but started to gain confidence in Myherin, although I had two close escapes on ice near the finish," Jari reflected. "The tyres are working well on the gravel, which they are designed for, but it's hard to stop the car in the ice and snow.

"It's a shame the stages have been shortened because they are great roads but it's the right decision. I would be happy on these roads with winter tyres, but not with this rubber."

Further down the order, P-G Andersson is fourth in his Suzuki SX4 WRC car, 2.8 seconds off P3 and 1.4 seconds up on Citroen's Sebastien Loeb, who rounds out the top five.

"It was mega slippery in SS3," said P-G. "I could see in places where the drivers ahead had almost been in ditches, and that doesn't inspire confidence."

"It started off okay," added Loeb, "but I still had a big moment. The car was completely sideways. It was very close to an accident near the end. After that I had to back off. It's so hard to read the road and know exactly where the ice is."

Of the rest Subaru's Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg are sixth and seventh, with Toni Gardemeister on course for the final drivers' point in eighth, followed by Dani Sordo and Francois Duval.

Mikko Hirvonen ended the loop in eleventh and he was none-to-pleased with his form - and to have dropped over 30 seconds.

"Conditions were difficult but maybe I was too steady," Mikko conceded. "I need to step up my pace now and while I need to be cautious, I don't need to be this cautious. I can see the lines on the road from S?bastien Loeb ahead of me so I can follow those and get more grip, but it's hard to stop on the ice with gravel tyres.

"It would have been too dangerous to run the first stage because the grip was changing all the time - from gravel to ice to snow. Conditions are improving with every car so those further down the start order have had the better of the morning."

After Hirvonen, Henning Solberg lies 12th and then came Matt Wilson, Barry Clark and Guy Wilks, the latter incidentally currently on course to take the honours in the P-WRC and the British Rally Championship.

The action now continues with a repeat of this morning's loop, before two runs through the Walters Arena brings the first leg to a close.



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