Reigning Ypres Rally winner Freddy Loix holds a lead of just under five seconds at the overnight halt after the opening day of the 2009 event, keeping IRC series leader Kris Meeke at bay.

Loix's Peugeot 207 S2000 managed to build a lead of seven seconds over his Kronos team-mate, but then lost two seconds in the dark of the last stage of the day. The record Ypres winner, however, admitted that he was happy with his lot.

"I'm just trying to drive carefully and keep my concentration," Loix said at the end of the day, "I know this event quite well, but it's still so easy to make a mistake."

Meeke, the winner of the last two IRC rounds, kept pace with the Belgian to hold a strong second place at the overnight halt, but declared himself 'surprised' to be trading fastest times with his veteran team-mate in his backyard.

"I'm just driving my own stages," the Briton insisted, "I'm very surprised to be going so quickly, and I knew that, if I came back into service leading the rally, I'd be for the high jump! I don't want to beat Freddy."

Having passed Loix for the championship lead with victory on the last round in the Azores, Meeke has pledged to go carefully and ensure that he doesn't throw away his chances on the notorious Flanders roads. Despite the caution, both he and the Belgian pulled away from the chasing pack on every stage.

Czech asphalt ace Jan Kopecky trails the leading pair by 8.4secs in his factory Skoda Fabia S2000, with a charging Giandomenico Basso clawing back time for Abarth in the battle for fourth, sitting just 0.2secs ahead of Kopecky's team-mate, Juho Hanninen.

Both the BF Goodrich Peugeot being guest-driven by Thierry Neuville and Britain's other leading entry in the event, the new Proton Satria of Guy Wilks, joined the high-profile retirements kick-started by Francois Duval on the opening stage.

The Skoda Belgium-run Belgian went off on one of the very first corners of the event and was forced to retire, while 21-year old Belgian talent Neuville crashed out of the event on the sixth stage, Lille-Eurometropole 2, after a strong performance through the day. Although the car was moveable, the oil pressure gauge indicated zero, and he decided to retire. Wilks, meanwhile, was struggling with an over-eager engine temperature warning and, without the ideal gear ratios because of homologation issues, went off the road on SS5.

Alex Bengue's debut with the Hankook Corsa was short-lived thanks to a broken engine, while Patrick Snijers suffered a rev-limiter interfering at 6500rpm instead of 8500 and was already losing valuable seconds before breaking his suspension on his VW Polo. Peugeot's Nicolas Vouilloz also hit trouble, damaging the front of his car with an off on the opening stage.

"We were going fast, hit a bump and spun quite fast," he said, having dropped to 59th at the end of the stage before recovering to set the fifth fastest time on the second and third stages to begin a slow recovery.

Bernd Casier, making his debut with the Abarth factory team, was delayed by a puncture on the final stage, while Dutch driver Marcel Piepers seized the provisional lead of the IRC 2WD Cup after a faultless performance.

The rally restarts at 1230hrs on Saturday with an intense ten-stage run to the finish.