Jari-Matti Latvala has been handed a huge lead in the Jordan Rally as his nearest rivals all backed off to secure a better road position for day two.
The Ford driver had been embroiled in a close battle with Petter Solberg and Dani Sordo going into SS7, but with both Citroens deliberately crawling through the final part of the stage, Latvala now finds himself 30 seconds clear of new second-placed man Sebastien Ogier (Citroen Junior).
Latvala had already been boosted by the organizers' decision to cancel a 10sec penalty that both he and Solberg were set to receive for arriving late at SS3. The officials agreed with the drivers' assertion that the road section timings had not made sufficient allowance for normal traffic.
Behind Latvala and Ogier, title rivals Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) and Mikko Hirvonen (Ford) both chose not to slow as running first on the road had already cost them plenty of time today. They will start tomorrow third and fifth, split by Solberg.
"What can you do? If I slow down, they will slow down. So I tried to push," said Loeb. "It's been a tough day. But I think Latvala's actually very fast – he's only third on the road and the others behind him are not so fast."
Hirvonen added: "We are behind [Loeb], hopefully that's the right thing to do. I didn't need to slow down, I just went with a steady pace and that's how the day went. You never know if it's the right decision or not. But there are two days to go, so let's see what we can do."
Solberg had led at the end of day one in Mexico last month and lost a lot of time on the second day. He hopes slowing will be more successful for him in Jordan.
"It's difficult to get it better," he said when he learned that he had dropped into fourth, just 0.7sec behind Loeb. "I've tried this now. I tried something different in Mexico. I can do whatever I want, so I just hope it works better than in Mexico. Let's wait and see, it's going to be a very difficult rally."
Citroen number two Sordo had started the final stage third, 11sec down on Latvala, but backed off so much he is now sixth, 45sec off the lead.
"I just slowed for the strategy – that's now normal in a gravel rally," said Sordo. "The team wanted me to go after the Fords."
Satellite Ford drivers Henning Solberg, Matthew Wilson (Stobart) and Federico Villagra (Munchi's) run seventh to ninth, with Kimi Raikkonen managing a trouble-free opening day for the first time in his World Rally Championship career and completing the leg in 10th.
A chaotic day in the S2000 class ended with Bernardo Sousa leading by 12sec over Xevi Pons after pacesetters PG Andersson, Nasser Al-Attiyah, Michal Kosciuszko and Eyvind Brynildsen all crashed or hit mechanical trouble.
Patrik Flodin holds a narrow lead in the Production series, 9.4s ahead of Martin Semerad, with champion Armindo Araujo a further 3sec behind.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford 1h11m31.5s
2. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 30.2s
3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 31.8s
4. Petter Solberg Citroen + 32.5s
5. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 42.2s
6. Dani Sordo Citroen + 45.4s
7. Henning Solberg Ford + 1m20.9s
8. Matthew Wilson Ford + 2m01.1s
9. Federico Villagra Ford + 2m48.2s
10. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen + 3m50.5s