Jari-Matti Latvala has taken an early lead in the Rally Sardinia, benefiting from his road position to pull out a 14.6-second advantage over Sebastien Loeb through the first three stages.
Latvala's incident-packed start to 2009 has left him only seventh in the championship at present – and therefore seventh onto the dusty stages this morning. The cleaner surface helped him to take two stage victories and head the field, despite a few issues with his Ford.
"I'm not so happy at the moment," Latvala admitted after SS2. "I have a problem with the braking where it feels like the engine wants to stall, and it's affecting my driving quite a lot."
Ford held a one-two for the first two stages with Latvala and teammate Mikko Hirvonen, the latter lacking confidence on the slippery roads, but Loeb put his Citroen between them with a good time on SS3.
"It's very slippery and being first on the road is very difficult, but that's how it is," said the championship leader.
Petter Solberg holds fourth in his Citroen Xsara, despite huge frustration on the first stage when his engine began to overheat and went into a conservative setting while matching the works Fords' pace.
"It's terrible – bloody hell, we would have won the stage easily," he raged at the end of SS1.
Citroen number two Dani Sordo is already a minute behind the leaders. He picked up a penalty for being late into the first stage – insisting this was due to a turbo problem rather than, as Hirvonen suspected, early tactics – and then lost more time when he hit a large rock and damaged a damper on SS3. He currently holds ninth place.
Fifth place is being disputed by Citroen Junior duo Sebastien Ogier and Evgeny Novikov, who both made very strong starts to the event. Ogier took the place from his teammate with a rapid time on SS3, while Adapta Subaru's Mads Ostberg is closing on both of them, despite being uneasy about the car's handling.
Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg fell from an initial fifth place to eighth as others got into their stride, the Norwegian admitting that it was taking him a while to settle into the rally and his setup. His team-mate Matthew Wilson is nearly two minutes adrift of the leaders after hydraulic problems this morning.Leading positions after SS3:
Pos Driver Car Time
1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford 42m40.2s
2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 14.6s
3. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 18.3s
4. Petter Solberg Citroen + 21.2s
5. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 26.2s
6. Evgeny Novikov Citroen + 32.0s
7. Mads Ostberg Subaru + 33.1s
8. Henning Solberg Ford + 38.0s
9. Dani Sordo Citroen +1m02.4s
10. Khalid Al Qassimi Ford +1m24.8s