Both Citroen World Rally Team crews revelled in the perfect conditions, with Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena completing the first leg on top with a small advantage over their chasers. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti also fulfilled their mission by concluding their solid day in fourth place.
As they left parc ferme Friday morning, crews were greeted by clear blue skies and a picture book coating of ice and snow on the stages. Temperatures as low as minus 20°C added a further traditional ingredient which ensured that Rally Norway's first full day of action took place to a truly magnificent backdrop.
Following Thursday evening's super-special at Oslo's horse trotting track, the cars headed south out of Hamar for two loops of four stages, split by a remote service halt in Kongsvinger.
The day was marked from the outset by an exciting clash between Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen. The latter took the lead thanks to a fastest time on SS3 and the five-time World Champion followed in second place at the lunchtime break, 4.8 seconds behind his rival.
"The organisers took the initiative of sending a snowplough through the stages between recce and the start, which meant that running first on the road wasn't such a big handicap," related Loeb. "I feel confident: the balance of my C4 WRC is perfectly suited to these conditions and I'm really enjoying my fight with Mikko."
Dani Sordo took a little time to settle, but he was equally pleased to be up in provisional fourth place: "I dropped some time through those portions where I was using my notes from 2007, and I also stalled in a hairpin. I had great fun, though, especially through the parts where I felt I had the confidence to push harder. I'm reasonably pleased with the way things stand at the moment."
The scrap became fiercer still second time round and Loeb continued to figure in second spot until he was handed the lead after the day's final test: "I'm delighted to have been able to fight with the Scandinavians at the sharp end. Staying on the road isn't easy at these speeds and we're on the limit pretty much all the time. The conditions were especially challenging second time through because the Group N runners had left a layer of crushed ice on the lines we take with our WRC cars."