SAPPORO, Japan — Mikko Hirvonen of Finland took the overall lead on the first day of the Rally Japan on Friday and championship leader Sebastien Loeb of France finished third.
Defending champion Hirvonen, driving a Ford, won six special stages on his way to building up a 26.2-second lead over compatriot Jari-Matti Latvala.
Loeb, who has won the last five races and can wrap up his fifth world championship with a win on Sunday, was 30.6 seconds off the lead.
Several of the stages in Friday’s first leg were canceled or shortened as a result of snowy weather and a crash involving Stobart driver Francois Duval on the sixth stage.
“We haven’t driven so much today, so the lead we have is quite good,” Hirvonen said. “It’s not over yet but generally it’s gone quite well.”
The Rally Japan is the 14th of 15 races in the World Rally Championship. Loeb leads the standings with 106 points, 14 points ahead of Hirvonen.