Stobart Ford's Mads Ostberg opened up a 24.8sec lead over works driver Mikko Hirvonen on the first morning of Rally Sweden, the World Rally Championship season opener.
Running 10th in the start order in the very snowy conditions has helped Ostberg, who was quickest on SS2 and SS4 and a close second to P-G Andersson on SS3. Despite having only had a single brief test in the new Ford Fiesta prior to the rally, Ostberg is already reveling in the car.
"I'm so confident with the car and I'm just taking it quite easy," he said. "I trust the pace notes, I trust the co-driver and I trust the fantastic car I'm driving. I'm very comfortable with the speed I'm on at the moment, so I feel good."
Second-placed Hirvonen has a 21sec cushion over Petter Solberg, who is the top Citroen driver in third. World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb has had the worst of the conditions as he is running first on the road, and in three stages this morning he has lost 1m46sec to the flying Ostberg.
"It's nearly undriveable," said Loeb, whose Citroen is back in ninth place. "Absolutely no grip at all. We're losing incredible time."
Jari-Matti Latvala ran third initially in the second works Ford, but lost the place to Solberg on SS3 and then dropped more time with a spin on the next stage.
The Finn is just 0.2sec ahead of S2000 Skoda driver Patrik Sandell, who holds an astounding fifth overall in what he expects to be his sole WRC appearance before focusing on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge this year.
Also flying in an S2000 car is Eyvind Brynildsen. A remarkable third-quickest time on SS4 has put him seventh overall, behind Henning Solberg (Stobart Ford), who made a quiet start before second-fastest time on the Lovhaugen stage brought him up to sixth.
Sebastien Ogier is eighth for Citroen. The Frenchman has been driving conservatively given his lack of snow experience, and lost a few seconds going straight on at a junction on Lovhaugen.
Superspecial winner P-G Andersson has had a miserable morning. The independent Ford driver lost a minute with a roll on SS2, won SS3, then had to stop and change a puncture on SS4, leaving him nearly five minutes off the lead.
Kimi Raikkonen (Ice 1 Citroen) had a quick spin on today's first stage, but was an impressive sixth quickest on Lovhaugen and is currently 11th.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Mads Ostberg Ford 40m10.8s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 24.8s
3. Petter Solberg Citroen + 45.6s
4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 1m19.8s
5. Patrik Sandell Skoda + 1m20.0s
6. Henning Solberg Ford + 1m21.4s
7. Eyvind Brynildsen Skoda + 1m27.1s
8. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 1m35.0s
9. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 1m46.7s
10. Martin Prokop Ford + 2m06.3s