Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has begun the Rallye Deutschland in perfect style by setting the pace in all three tests this morning.

Loeb was quickest straight out of the blocks in his C4 WRC car, completing the opening 21.22 km Ruwertal / Fell test in 11 minutes 31.6 seconds, 5.8 seconds up on Dani Sordo, who was 'best of the rest'.

The Frenchman then went quickest again in Grafschaft Veldenz to increase his early lead almost two-fold, before inching further in front in SS3, the 9.82 km run through Moselland. The four-time world rally champion thus returned to service in Trier with a 15.3 second lead and is already looking good to win in Germany for the seventh year in succession, although it is of course very early days.

"I had a good start and was 5.9 seconds faster than Hirvonen on the first stage. I really pushed hard," said Loeb. "At the moment everything is okay. We are happy and will keep on pushing."

Dani Sordo meanwhile was second best in the opening two test stages in the sister works C4 WRC. However he could 'only' manage the fourth best time in SS3 and thus returned to service joint second overall with BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT's Mikko Hirvonen.

"We had problems with the soft tyres early on," stated Sordo. "It is difficult to drive on the dirty road. It was better in SS2 and I had a better feeling with the car. For me though, the soft tyres were not the right choice."

Hirvonen in contrast was happy with his Focus, although he did concede that he would like to have been closer to Seb: "It went well apart from a small amount of understeer," explained the 28-year-old. "It was slippery in the narrow sections and where the surface changes, especially on the opening stage, and I don't think I've ever been as sideways on asphalt as I was this morning.

"I would like to be closer to the lead but I'm trying to focus on my own driving and not thinking about the pace of others. I'll talk to the engineers about some small changes and keep an eye on the weather before I make my tyre choice for the repeat loop this afternoon."

Further down the order Francois Duval is fourth on his second outing this year under the Stobart Ford banner. The Belgian was fourth quickest in SS1, seventh in SS2 and third in SS3. His only complaint was a slight delay in the electronic gear shift.

"I'm just getting used to the car, we didn't have a lot of testing and it's the first time for me on these new soft Pirellis," he noted. "The car is under-steering a little and I'm not getting things right on the slower hairpins. The gear changes on stages 2 and 3 were a bit slow and the roads are quite dirty for me as well."

Subaru World Rally Team duo Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg round out the top six, 3 seconds or so off P4 and split by only 1.4 seconds.

"We were on the hard compound tyre this morning when everyone else was on the soft, but we had no real problems," stated Atkinson. "It's difficult to judge whether the tyre choice lost us some time as it's the first time we've all competed on these tyres and that this has happened, but it was our choice.

"The roads are slippery anyway and the car moves around a lot, but it was going pretty well. I feel I drove well this morning. In some areas of the stage our times were very close to the others, and in some places we gave away some time. Okay I could have driven a little faster, but it wasn't the time to take big risks."

"We're a little bit back, but I know where I'm losing time so I'm happy with the morning," added 'Hollywood'. "We're giving away a little in the slow pieces and in the hairpins, but we have some ideas so it's quite okay at the moment."

Of the rest Jari-Matti Latvala and Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg complete the top eight, with Gigi Galli ninth and Citroen semi-privateer Urmo Aava tenth in his PH Sport-run C4 WRC.

"The car felt too soft for my driving style and perhaps a harder set-up and hard compound tyres would have been better," said Latvala. "If the weather stays dry I may take harder springs. I was unsure how dirty the road would be after the passage of four cars ahead of me. My aim here is to increase my asphalt experience and try to score as many points for the team as I can."

"We've made a good start this morning and I'm in a much better position than I thought I would be," Henning continued. "On the last stage we cut in too early at a hairpin near the start and I thought we had a puncture but when we got to the end of the stage everything was fine. We are taking things slowly and trying to build up the speed over the day."

Suzuki's Per-Gunnar Andersson and Toni Gardemeister are next up, eleventh and twelfth respectively, followed by the Ford's of Andreas Mikkelsen, Matthew Wilson and Peter van Merksteijn, who round out the top 15.

In the Junior World Rally Championship category, Martin Prokop leads - 8.9 seconds up on fellow Citroen C2 S1600 runner Sebastien Ogier. Aaron Burkart completes the J-WRC top three, 29.3 seconds further back.

The action now continues at 14.52 hours local time, when all three of this morning's tests will be repeated to conclude the opening leg.

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