Sebastien Loeb has taken the early initiative on the Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada following the opening loop of three stages this morning [Friday].
Loeb was in fine form from the off as he looks to try and extend his eight-point lead over BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen and clinch his fifth drivers' title.
The Frenchman was 1.5 seconds up on his Citroen team-mate, Dani Sordo in SS1, the 20.48 kilometre-run through La Mussara, but it was in the next stage that he really showed his class and extended his advantage to 7.4 seconds. Seb then just edged out Sordo in SS3 to return to the mid-day halt in PortAventura with a 7.5 second lead.
"The conditions were cold and dry, so we chose the hard compound tyre, although it was important to get the rubber up to temperature in order to profit from good grip. I decided to push hard from the outset in order to profit from the stages while they were still clean before this afternoon's repeat run," said Loeb.
"Everything went like a dream. My set-up is perfect, my C4 is very competitive and we didn't make any mistakes. There's not much in it between Dani and ourselves, but we've succeeded in pulling out a handy little gap over our rivals. I prefer to see how the conditions have evolved before deciding what sort of pace to adopt this afternoon."
Sordo meanwhile was the only one anywhere near Loeb's pace and with three second quickest times, lies 16.1 seconds up on Francois Duval, who heads the chasing pack behind the dominant 'works' Citroen C4 WRC's.
"I had a bit of troubling settling into the ideal rhythm and I had quite a bit of understeer running on the hard compound tyre," said Sordo. "I tried to adapt the way I drove to make full use of my C4's potential and I am pleased with the result and our position so far.
"The two drivers running ahead of us on the road hardly cut any corners and the stage was still clean, but I'm not sure it will still be that way when we return this afternoon. Our chasers aren't that far behind, so we will need to keep pushing on the next three tests."
Duval claimed P3 in SS1 and although he slipped behind Mikko Hirvonen in SS2, he pulled back in front in SS3. The two BP Ford Abu Dhabi men are now split by just 2.2 seconds, but alarmingly for Mikko, he is already 25 seconds off Loeb and that doesn't bode well.