Dani Sordo will lead into day two of the Rally Argentina after a thrilling battle with Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb on the opening leg.
After an opening loop that had seen Loeb, Jari-Matti Latvala, Sordo and Hirvonen all take turns at the front, the contest became even closer during the re-run stages.
First Sordo grabbed the lead from Hirvonen by 0.6 second on SS6, then the Finn responded through the next stage to reclaim the top spot by 0.7sec. It became tighter still as the duo shared first place at the end of SS8, before Sordo established a 5s overnight lead through the final stage of the day.
"It's really nice, a really good sensation," said Sordo. "I'm very happy and really comfortable with the car."
It was little surprise that both Hirvonen and Loeb set leisurely times on SS8 given the likely problems with running first on the road tomorrow if conditions stay dry. The World Champion is now 16.3sec adrift of his rally-leading teammate, but just 2.6sec ahead of the remarkable Petter Solberg, who has been flying in his 2005 vintage Citroen Xsara.
"I've been pushing over the limit, this is the type of rally you can attack very hard," said Solberg. "I never thought I could be so quick in this car. In general, I'm very pleased.
"I just have to be there and see if anyone makes a small mistake. It's bloody good though, I'm very happy. Just think, if I had a new car..."
Jari-Matti Latvala fell out of the lead battle when he picked up a puncture on SS6 and lost nearly a minute, leaving him sixth behind Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg.
"After one of the jumps we got a puncture and that cost us about 55 seconds," said the works Ford number two. "I don't really know what happened, but we ended up doing about half of the stage with the tire going down slowly."
Matthew Wilson remains seventh in the second Stobart car, despite a half-spin early in the afternoon, with local man Federico Villagra on course for the final point for Munchi's Ford.
Outside the points, Sebastien Ogier has picked up and pace and moved clear of his Citroen Junior teammate Conrad Rautenbach, who has been slowed by brake problems.
Home drivers Gabriel Pozzo and Marcos Ligato are running first and third in the Production class, split by the charging Nasser Al-Attiyah, who has recovered strongly after losing his early lead to suspension problems.
Argentina should have been a big chance for Eyvind Brynildsen to boost his title challenge with points leader Armindo Araujo and Patrik Sandell both skipping the event, but Brynildsen suffered the bizarre misfortune of seeing his Ralliart New Zealand Mitsubishi sent to Brazil by mistake.
He was able to start the rally in a Lancer borrowed from Villagra's national championship team, only to suffer a turbo failure this morning.Leading positions after SS9:
Pos Driver Car Time
1. Dani Sordo Citroen 1h45m11.3s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 5.1s
3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 16.3s
4. Petter Solberg Citroen + 18.9s
5. Henning Solberg Ford + 47.9s
6. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 1m06.4s
7. Matthew Wilson Ford + 2m23.0s
8. Federico Villagra Ford + 2m38.9s
9. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 3m14.4s
10. Conrad Rautenbach Citroen + 3m48.2s