Sebastien Loeb still leads the Rally Catalunya at the end of the first day, but only by 3.8sec over Sebastien Ogier after a second-loop charge from the younger Frenchman.
Newly crowned 7-time champion Loeb had taken a surprisingly comfortable lead this morning despite running first on what were predominantly gravel stages, this traditionally asphalt event having switched to an innovative mixed-surface format this year.
Loeb felt that slightly damp conditions had limited the amount of loose dust on the stages on the first pass, but found things more slippery this afternoon – particularly on SS4, where Citroen Junior driver Ogier was 8.5sec quicker than the factory number one. Ogier could not make similar in-roads on the following two stages though, and admitted that with the remaining two legs based on asphalt, this might be as close as he could get to Loeb.
"I think it's a good day – I am not so far from Seb, so it's good," said Ogier. "Tomorrow I have to try and follow him, and I know that on tarmac it's going to be very difficult."
Small mistakes meant Jari-Matti Latvala could not keep up with morning sparring partner Ogier, and having now fallen to 16.1sec behind Loeb, the Ford driver is aiming to hang on to his third place. The Finn will face a tough challenge from Petter Solberg, whose stage win on SS5 brought him to within 2.2sec of Latvala going into leg two.
Mikko Hirvonen runs a low-key fifth in the second Ford, while Dani Sordo was despondent to end the opening day of his home rally back in sixth place, having struggled to find confidence in his Citroen this afternoon.
Stobart's Matthew Wilson is currently winning the battle of the satellite Fords ahead of Munchi's driver Federico Villagra and Monster's Ken Block, while Henning Solberg has got among the WRC machinery in the S2000 Ford Fiesta.
The Junior class is the only one of the support categories running in Spain. Local rising star Yeray Lemes leads, but third place for Aaron Burkart behind title rival Hans Weijs will be sufficient for Burkart to become the series' final champion if positions stay the same.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 1h25m26.8s
2. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 3.8s
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 19.9s
4. Petter Solberg Citroen + 22.4s
5. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 42.4s
6. Dani Sordo Citroen + 54.7s
7. Matthew Wilson Ford + 2m46.9s
8. Federico Villagra Ford + 3m21.2s
9. Ken Block Ford + 3m42.8s
10. Henning Solberg Ford + 4m21.6s