Sebastien Loeb continues to lead the championship-deciding Rally GB, but Mikko Hirvonen has reduced his advantage to five seconds at the end of day one.
After Loeb had put Hirvonen in the shade on the first loop this morning, the Finn fought back on the repeat run through the stages. The Ford driver started by outpacing Loeb by 5sec on Hafren, and although Loeb (Citroen) was then 2.4sec quicker on Sweet Lamb, Hirvonen then closed by 1.1sec on Myherin - meaning they start day two 5.3sec apart.
"I've tried to fight back," said Hirvonen at the end of SS6. "I didn't have any clue how the stage was going, but it's very slippy, so small moments all the time. I think it should be really good for tomorrow now."
Loeb was relieved that Hirvonen had not closed in further, having been unhappy with his run through Myherin.
"I thought I was much slower in the stage, and I didn't understand it," he said. "It was like the first stage in the loop, I had understeer and was sliding around in the middle. It's really difficult, but really exciting. I'm quite happy and we're in front at the moment."
Petter Solberg ended the day third, having continued his ultra-close battle with works Citroen driver Dani Sordo. After a day of frantic place-swapping, just 1.1s separates them overnight.
Sebastien Ogier remains fifth for Citroen Junior, despite losing a lot of time with a puncture on Myherin. He was helped by continued problems for the Stobart Ford drivers in sixth and seventh. Henning Solberg hopes his persistent misfire can be cured at the end of day service, while Matthew Wilson reckons his day-long traction issues might be due to a differential glitch.
Conrad Rautenbach now completes the top eight in the second Citroen Junior car after Adapta Subaru driver Mads Ostberg's earlier suspension problems forced his retirement.
Jari-Matti Latvala is a distant ninth. His brake damage was fixed by Ford at the remote service in the middle of the day, but the driveshaft breakage cannot be rectified until the full service tonight – which means he has spent the entire day with three-wheel drive.
"It's been very frustrating to drive, but these things can happen – it's motorsport," he said. "We need to accept it and keep going."
Dominant Production class leader Eyvind Brynildsen is up to 10th overall, ahead of final WRC runner Aaron Burkart, who is having an outing in an extra Citroen Junior car as a reward for his Junior series performances.
Patrik Sandell and Martin Prokop are battling for second in Production – but both are behind Pirelli Star Driver stand-out Jarkko Nikara, who does not score in the class.
Leading positions after day one:
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 1h15m22.1s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 5.3s
3. Petter Solberg Citroen + 40.5s
4. Dani Sordo Citroen + 41.6s
5. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 2m41.3s
6. Henning Solberg Ford + 2m50.1s
7. Matthew Wilson Ford + 3m23.0s
8. Conrad Rautenbach Citroen + 4m54.6s
9. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 6m50.1s
10. Eyvind Brynildsen Skoda + 7m52.0s