Jari-Matti Latvala will lead the Rally Sardinia by nearly 40 seconds going into day two after his closest pursuers decided to slow down for tactical reasons on today's final stage.
With the dusty roads proving a major headache for the drivers running first on the road, Latvala was able to benefit from his seventh place in the starting order to open up a 17.2sec lead through the first five stages of the event.
But in SS6, both Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen backed off to try and ensure the best possible road position for Saturday's stages, whereas Latvala decided to stay at full pace and stretched his advantage to 39.8sec over his Ford teammate Hirvonen and 42.8sec over Citroen driver Loeb.
Despite his big lead, Latvala was concerned that his flat-out tactic might not pay off tomorrow.
"It is a little bit of a bad move, actually," he said. "But if you want to win you have to be able to drive first on the road, so we will see. It's not an easy situation. Tomorrow will be a very hard day for me. It hasn't been cleaning as much today as we expected. I'll try to keep a clear head and stay cool."
Hirvonen was frustrated to find himself ahead of Loeb in second place, having been caught out by how much his rival - who preferred not to comment on his tactics – had slowed.
"I f****d it up," said Hirvonen. "This is completely a mistake. You can't do it much more wrong than I did just now. This is really, really bad. I didn't slow down enough. I didn't believe that Loeb would slow down so much. Completely my mistake."
The tactical driving ahead has allowed Petter Solberg to close right in on Hirvonen and Loeb, the former champion ending the day just 7sec from second place in his outdated Citroen Xsara – and with a slightly better leg two road position than those ahead.
Despite spinning on both runs through Crastazza, Citroen Junior's Russian teenager Evgeny Novikov ended the day in a superb fifth place. The team would have had two cars in the top six had Sebastien Ogier not stopped on SS5 with a broken damper.
Henning Solberg has moved up to sixth for Stobart Ford, narrowly ahead of Adapta Subaru's Mads Ostberg, with Dani Sordo back in eighth in the second works Citroen having been given his second time penalty of the day for leaving service late following suspension repairs.Leading positions after day one:
Pos Driver Car Time
1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford 1h24m14.5s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 39.8s
3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 42.8s
4. Petter Solberg Citroen + 46.4s
5. Evgeny Novikov Citroen + 1m04.7s
6. Henning Solberg Ford + 1m08.2s
7. Mads Ostberg Subaru + 1m16.6s
8. Dani Sordo Citroen + 1m37.3s
9. Matthew Wilson Ford + 2m33.8s
10. Khalid Al Qassimi Ford + 2m59.9s