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Loeb lays down the gauntlet in Germany.

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.



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