Citroen privateer Petter Solberg won two out of the three stages this morning to seize the early lead on Rally Japan, despite not feeling 100 per cent.

Solberg, who was eighth following the two opening short Sapporo super specials on Thursday, began by completing the first test, the 26.92 km Iwanke Long 1 stage, in 16 minutes 21.2 seconds, 3.2 seconds up on overnight leader, Sebastien Ogier.

The Norwegian then went quickest again in SS4, moving up from second overall to P1, 8.5 seconds up on his closet rival. Although 'Hollywood' had to settle for the joint second quickest in SS5, 1 second off his brother, Henning, he still increased his lead over Ogier and returned to the mid-day service with a 10.3 second advantage.

"I must be consistent," said Petter. "I know I am able to drive very fast like in Finland or Germany. I would like to keep the same pace during the second loop this afternoon, but I don't want to do make any mistakes. Rally Japan is very important for me. I have a fever and I feel tired. I need to keep all my energy to drive."

Ogier, who was second quickest in SS3, dropped off the pace a bit in SS4 and SS5 and was only fifth and sixth quickest. Despite that though, he was still happy: "It's a good start. I'm very satisfied to hold second position after the three stages this morning. Maybe, I swept the roads a bit but I could use the lines that [Sebastien] Loeb left and that helped me. In the first stage, I had a good feeling so I pushed really hard. I don't mind if it's my first time here because I trust my pace notes," he said.

Dani Sordo meanwhile completes the top three, giving Citroen a clean sweep of the podium places, followed by BP Ford Abu Dhabi men, Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, the former just 0.9 seconds off P3.

"In places the surface is very soft with ruts, but in others it's quite slippery," Hirvonen revealed. "In the soft sections, it feels as though the car is being sucked into the sand and I'm not going anywhere. But I'm sure that's the same for everyone. I think the ruts in the first stage this afternoon will be massive."

"I had a comfortable speed in the first stage but had no split times coming into the car, and I was shocked by the times of the others at the finish," added Latvala. "I could have driven faster, and would have if I had been able to see the splits.

"I had a good feeling in the corners where it was soft with big ruts. The grip was good there so I pushed hard in the ruts and it worked well. The gap from the lead is fine at the moment, but I don't want it to grow any larger."

Sebastien Loeb is next up, 16.3 seconds off Latvala, and 36.6 seconds off Solberg. He was sixth in SS3, seventh in SS4 and fifth in SS5: "I think I swept the roads this morning. It was so slippery. I wasn't so confident as usual because we didn't run a real shakedown on gravel.

"I must find more speed this afternoon. I imagine the second loop stages will be rougher with big ruts," said the Frenchman, who is looking to secure his seventh WRC drivers' title this weekend.

Of the rest, Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg and Matt Wilson come in seventh and eighth, followed by Munchi's man Federico Villagra and F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen.

"I'm very happy to have won that last stage," said Henning, "In my head I want to drive as fast as I possibly can all the time and I want to try and do this again this afternoon. I don't like the stages much here in Japan, the roads can be very long and with narrow corners so it is difficult to find the right rhythm.

"I've not found a huge problem to adjust back to the [Ford] Focus after driving the Ford Fiesta S2000 in Germany - this car is nice to drive on the gravel surfaces. The deep ruts have made everything very hard but I know that it will be much worse this afternoon. I will continue to push and hopefully I will collect another stage win for the team!"

In the support classes, Jari Ketomaa has held onto his overnight lead in the SWRC, and now lies over 30 seconds up on Martin Prokop. Bernardo Sousa is third, albeit almost 50 seconds further back. There are only three drivers competing in the SWRC in Japan.

As for the PWRC, local favourite, Toshi Arai led early on, until he crashed out in SS4. Patrik Flodin inherited P1 and now lies over a minute open on Hayden Paddon.

The only other notable retirement was BP Ford Abu Dhabi 'third' driver Khalid Al-Qassimi. He rolled his Focus just 1km after the start of the day's opening stage and retired. It is not yet known if he will re-start under SupeRally rules on Saturday.

The opening leg now continues at 15.03 hours local time, with all three of this morning's tests due to be repeated. The leg concludes with two more runs through the short 1.57 km Sapporo SSS.

Rally Japan: Overall standings after Stage 5 (Top 10):

1. Petter SolbergPSWRT Citroen C4 WRC36mins 56.1secs A8
2. Sebastien OgierCitroen Total WRT C4 WRC+00mins 10.3secs M
3. Dani SordoCitroen Junior Team C4 WRC+00mins 12.5secs M
4. Mikko HirvonenBP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 13.4secs M
5. Jari-Matti LatvalaBP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 20.3secs M
6. Sebastien LoebCitroen Total WRT C4 WRC+00mins 36.6secs M
7. Henning SolbergStobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC+00mins 43.9secs M
8. Matthew WilsonStobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC+01mins 25.9secs M
9. Federico VillagraMunchi's Ford Focus WRC+01mins 53.6secs M
10. Kimi RaikkonenCitroen Junior Team C4 WRC+02mins 11.4secs M

SWRC Standings after Stage 5 (Top 3):

1. Jari KetomaaFord Fiesta S200039mins 43.3secs S
2. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S200000mins 37.2secs S
3. Bernardo SousaFord Fiesta S200001mins 26.6secs S

PWRC Standings after Stage 5 (Top 3):

1. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza STi40mins 41.4secs P
2. Hayden PaddonMitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +01mins 04.2secs P
3. Paulo NobreMitsubishi Lancer Evo X+02mins 32.1secs P

Notable retirements:

SS3. Khalid Al-Qassmi BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC Rolled M
SS4. Toshi AraiSubaru Impreza WRC STi Accident P

all times unofficial

 

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