BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen has taken the lead on Rally Norway, the second round in the 2009 World Rally Championship, following the opening loop of four stages this morning.

Mikko, who was second through the short Oslo SSS on Thursday night, 0.6 seconds behind Petter Solberg, snatched P1 immediately, completing the first 'proper' test in 8 minutes 6 seconds, 2.5 seconds up on Sebastien Loeb, who was 'best of the rest'.

Hirvonen then slipped to second in SS3, 0.4 seconds behind Loeb, before re-taking the initiative in SS4 and then increasing his cushion from 2.5 seconds to 4.8 going into the 15-minute remote service zone in Kongsvinger.

"It was a good start and conditions are pretty much as I expected," said Hirvonen. "There doesn't seem to be any disadvantage for drivers at the head of the start order, which I thought there might be.

"Pirelli's new wide snow tyre works well with just a little movement when the snow is loose. I stalled the engine for a couple of seconds under braking in the second stage, but the car feels perfect.

"It's a big fight with Loeb - and that's how it should be. I can't use the car heater so it feels really cold and I'm only using the small heater on my driving boots during the liaison sections."

Loeb meanwhile is enjoying the fight and is generally happy with his Citroen C4 WRC: "At the moment everything is good for us but I expect to lose a little more time on the second time through the stages," he added.

"I am very happy with the car though and I don't think we will change much at the service."

Jari-Matti Latvala is next up, but he is already over 20 seconds off the battle for the lead. The Finn had a consistent morning and was second fastest in SS4 and third in SS2 and SS5.

"I haven't really found the right feeling yet so I'm going to make the car set-up a little softer," he explained.

"I had a good winter test in December so I don't want to make big changes, just a few small tweaks - there's no need to panic. Ruts are developing in the snow and it isn't as easy to keep the car in the tracks with the wider tyre as it was with the narrower version we used in previous years."

Further down the order, Dani Sordo and Petter Solberg complete the top five, split by 20.6 seconds.

'Hollywood', who had that dream start on Thursday, posted some good times - including a fourth best effort in SS2 and a fifth best in SS5. He seems confident that there is more to come from his privately entered Xsara WRC too.

"Yes the car feels good this morning. I just have to improve it a bit on the slippery snow and then we will be able to fight harder. The feeling with the car is getting better but don't forget I have only had two days in it," he noted.

Petter's brother, Henning finished the loop in sixth, closely followed by his Stobart Ford team-mate, Urmo Aava and then Sebastien Ogier, Matthew Wilson and Per-Gunnar Andersson.

"It's not been the morning I had hoped for but that is all part of the challenge," said Henning. "I'm pushing hard and still aiming for the podium.

"We will maybe try to change some things with setup and see if we can improve our times this afternoon."

Of the rest, Evgeny Novikov is eleventh on his debut with the Citroen Junior Team - 2 seconds up on Conrad Rautenbach, in the sister C4 WRC, then comes Mads ?stberg and Patrik Sandell, who continues to lead the P-WRC category, 8.5 seconds ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen.

"It is going well," said Sandell, who is making his debut in the Red Bull Rallye Team-run Skoda Fabia S2000. "I am enjoying it, maybe the suspension is a bit soft at the front and it is quite difficult to keep it in the ruts. But overall the car feels good and stable."

The action now continues at 12.51 hours local time, when all four of this morning's tests will be repeated to conclude the opening day.



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