Sebastien Loeb continues to dominate his home rally in France, leading by 22.7sec at the end of day one.
The championship leader, who is poised to clinch his seventh consecutive title this weekend, took it easy for much of the afternoon, with a lot of mud having been dragged onto the stages during the morning loop. Loeb found the leg-ending Grand Ballon stage, which started over an hour late following various delays during the day, particularly frustrating.
"I'm happy just to finish this stage, because it was really in bad condition," said the Citroen driver.
Citroen Junior's Sebastien Ogier, now in third place behind Dani Sordo, agreed with Loeb, saying: "This stage was absolutely crazy – I think it was the worst stage I've done in my life. It was completely muddy everywhere and we drove very, very slowly because we had absolutely no grip."
However, Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala has reveled in the conditions and was fastest on both SS5 and SS8. His burst of speed of asphalt – where he and Ford normally struggle – has taken him up to fourth ahead of the over-steering Petter Solberg.
"If it's very narrow and very, very slippery, it seems our car is now working really well in these conditions," said Latvala. "I don't know if the Citroens are a bit stiffer and more stable in the very fast stuff, but it seems the narrow and slippy stuff is suiting me. It's getting more interesting now."
Sordo also coped well with the muddy asphalt and moved up from fourth to second ahead of Ogier, but he admitted he was surprised to see Latvala moving into contention.
"It's a really good fight, really close," said Sordo. "Jari-Matti's stage times are really fast, I don't understand it. It's really dirty, maybe he's good in these conditions, but it's very difficult."
Mikko Hirvonen has now totally lost touch with the leaders. The Ford driver is nearly two minutes down in sixth place, and admitted he was lucky to complete SS8 after two errors, one of which saw him clout the mountainside.
Kimi Raikkonen remains seventh in the second Citroen Junior car.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 1h18m27.8s
2. Dani Sordo Citroen + 22.7s
3. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 25.6s
4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 41.8s
5. Petter Solberg Citroen + 45.8s
6. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 1m50.8s
7. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen + 3m27.4s
8. Federico Villagra Ford + 5m34.6s
9. Matthew Wilson Ford + 5m58.1s
10. Ken Block Ford + 7m01.4s