Citroen team leader Sebastien Loeb has taken the lead on the Neste Oil Rally Finland this evening, the ninth round in the 2009 World Rally Championship.

Loeb completed the opening stage in 1 minute 20.3 seconds as thousands of fanatical Finnish rally fans packed into the arena to watch the 90 starters racing head-to-head over the 2.06 kilometre course at the Killeri trotting track.

Seb was paired against championship rival Mikko Hirvonen and in the end the Frenchman came out top by 0.9 seconds.

It was Dani Sordo though that posted the second best effort overall, only 0.1 seconds slower than Loeb. Hirvonen meanwhile ended up third, while Citroen Junior Team duo Sebastien Ogier and Evgeny Novikov tied for the fourth best time, both 1.2 seconds off the pace.

"It was great to see and hear the support from the Finnish fans," said Hirvonen. "A driver can't help but be encouraged by that type of backing. It's frustrating to lose time [to Sebastien], even though it was less than a second, but I have to remember that losing 0.9sec is really nothing to worry about.

"I enjoyed the stage and now I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep before we head out into the countryside for more traditional stages in the morning - when it will be maximum attack!"

Further down the order Petter Solberg was sixth - to give Citroen five of the top six places - followed by his brother, Henning and Jari-Matti Latvala.

Henning and Latvala set the joint seventh best effort, 0.1 seconds off 'Hollywood' and 1.5 seconds off Loeb.

"I had some pressure after my mistake on the same type of stage on the last round in Poland," Latvala admitted. "I didn't feel totally relaxed, but there were no mistakes this time, and I'm happy with that performance."

"That was good fun," added Henning, "I love super special stages like this where there are lots of fans; everyone loves rallying here and it is brilliant for us to be able to put on a good show for them.

"We had a good race with Petter and he was only a tenth of a second quicker so it is sure to be a good battle this weekend. Everything went well for us on the recce, I love these stages here and hopefully we have some good notes for the new stages; they are very fast and will be great fun. We had a nice recce also and everything worked perfectly."

Of the rest Jari Ketomaa and Matti Rantanen rounded out the top ten, with Khalid Al Qassimi eleventh and Mads Ostberg twelfth. Britain's Matthew Wilson and Juho Hanninen came in 13th and 14th, while 2007 F1 World champion, Kimi Raikkonen was 20th having traded in his Ferrari F1 car this weekend for a Fiat Grande Punto S2000.

"We had a really confident recce and were able to make a few positive changes to our pacenotes from some things that we learnt in Poland," said Wilson. "That was important for us and I'm hoping they will be slightly better here. The new stages here this year are so quick and will definitely be a big challenge for everyone.

"The stage tonight was great fun and, as always, the atmosphere here in Killeri was fantastic. It's a great way to start off the rally but I'm looking forward to the real stages tomorrow morning."

The action now continues on Friday, with SS2 - Jukojarvi 1 - beginning at 07.38 hours local time.

Friday's action includes nine stages in total and around 128 competitive kilometres. Leg 1 concludes as it started, with a second run through the Killeri SSS, scheduled to begin at 20.00 hours local time.


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