MINI driver Dani Sordo has completed a thrilling first day of Rallye de France Alsace leading the world championship qualifier with 2.8s covering the top three drivers after the opening eight stages south of Strasbourg.

Sordo had posted several rapid stage times in his John Cooper Works WRC during the morning loop before he shared the joint fastest time with Petter Solberg on stage six this afternoon. He then went quickest of all on Friday’s final test to take a lead of 1.0s over Solberg heading into day two.

“I’m really, really happy,” said the Spaniard. “We have been working so hard for this and now we’re in a good place. There are still two days [to go] but today has been really good. To be leading Citroen at home is very nice but it’s only one day at the moment. I try to be flat again tomorrow.”

Solberg, in a privateer Citroen DS3 WRC, moved in front when he edged out factory Citroen driver Sebastien Ogier on stage seven. Despite slipping behind Sordo on stage eight, the Norwegian said he was delighted with his speed on Friday.

“It’s been absolutely fantastic today and I’m so happy to be fighting properly,” said Solberg. “I’m second just behind Sordo, it’s a perfect situation for me. But it’s been tough and the last stage I didn’t want to take any risks in the gravel after having five punctures in Germany.”

Ogier said his team would be carrying out a thorough inspection of his car after he reported a possible engine fault on Friday afternoon’s closing brace of stages. The Frenchman, who has been fastest on three runs today, is 2.8s adrift of Sordo overnight in third position.

“It’s not as good as we expected,” said Ogier. “It’s a strange feeling with the performance of the car. In some places I try but I do not have the speed so the team has to check everything to see what happened. It’s very close and it’s still possible.”

Ogier moved to the top of the leaderboard when his Citroen team-mate and world championship leader Sebastien Loeb stopped on stage three with an engine fault. Citroen team manager Sven Smeets has confirmed that last year’s winner would not be restarting on day two of his home rally.

Behind Kris Meeke in the second factory MINI, Jari-Matti Latvala is the leading Ford driver in fifth overall. However, the Finn is more than one minute shy of the lead following his off-road moment on stage three.

Team-mate Mikko Hirvonen, who is 15 points behind Loeb in the title battle, also hit trouble on the same stage when he went off and damaged the steering of his Fiesta RS WRC. He’s 6.9s behind Latvala at the overnight halt in sixth position, having dropped behind his countryman on stage seven.

Portugal’s Armindo Araujo is seventh in his Motorsport Italia MINI with M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta driver Mads Ostberg slipping to eighth following a left-rear puncture on stage seven.

Dutchman Dennis Kuipers is ninth for the FERM Power Tools World Rally Team with Henning Solberg10th in his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta. Monster World Rally Team’s Ken Block had been in the top 10 until he lost time when Peter van Merksteijn Jr his Citroen and momentarily blocked the road on stage six. The Gymkhana FOUR star is in 13th behind Russian Evgeny Novikov and Super 2000 World Rally Championship leader Ott Tanak. Pierre Campana is 14th in his Equipe de France FFSA MINI.

Ex-Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen had been in the top 10 until a freak collision with Henning Solberg on the road section heading to stage three put him out. Although his Citroen suffered only light damage he elected not to continue on day two.

Day two’s action gets underway with the 9.87-kilometre Hohlandsberg stage at 08:23hrs local time.

Leading positions after SS8:  Pos  Driver              Team/Car           Time/Gap  1.  Dani Sordo          Mini             1h23m02.1s  2.  Petter Solberg      Solberg Citroen      + 1.0s  3.  Sebastien Ogier     Citroen              + 2.8s  4.  Kris Meeke          Mini                + 54.5s  5.  Jari-Matti Latvala  Ford              + 1m13.7s  6.  Mikko Hirvonen      Ford              + 1m20.6s  7.  Armindo Araujo      Italia Mini       + 2m23.1s  8.  Mads Ostberg        Stobart Ford      + 2m36.8s  9.  Dennis Kuipers      FERM Ford         + 2m46.8s 10.  Henning Solberg     Stobart Ford      + 3m18.0s

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