Sebastien Loeb has claimed first blood in the battle for the 2009 World Rally Championship as he beat rival Mikko Hirvonen on all three of this morning's stages of the Rally of Great Britain.
Competitors reported lingering fog and slippery conditions on the 20 mile run through Hafren forest in Mid Wales with the Citroen driver 1.7 seconds quicker than Hirvonen could manage. With equally tricky conditions on stage 2, Sweet Lamb, Loeb managed to extend his advantage by a further 1.2 seconds in just 3 miles. He consolidated his lead on the final stage of the morning, Myherin setting a time 6 seconds quicker than Hirvonen, taking his overall advantage up to nearly 9 seconds.
Loeb trailed Hirvonen in the championship standings by a single point before the rally got underway and whoever claims the better result on this event will take the title.
There was an early set back for Hirvonen's fellow Finn and team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala as he emerged from the opening stage with slight front end damage and a broken drive shaft. He dropped 50 seconds to the frontrunners on the opening stage and finished the second stage with no front brakes. Cumbria's Matthew Wilson was complaining of a loss of power in his Stobart backed Focus.
Petter Solberg with Welsh co-driver Phil Mills, described the opening stages as ;very muddy'. Lying third after two stages the Norwegian driver slipped to fourth behind Dani Sordo of Spain at the end of stage 3.
Competitors repeat all three stages this afternoon before returning to Cardiff Bay from 6.20 this evening for the overnight halt.
Overall times after SS3 / Top 15:
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 37mins 23.2secs
2. Mikko Hirvonen
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 08.9secs
3. Dani Sordo
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 27.7secs
4. Petter Solberg
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +00mins 31.1secs
5. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +01mins 10.0secs
6. Henning Solberg
Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +01mins 46.3secs
7. Matthew Wilson
Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +01mins 52.6secs
8. Mads Ostberg
Adapta Subaru Impreza WRC +02mins 42.3secs
9. Conrad Rautenbach
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +03mins 06.8secs
10. Jari-Matti Latvala
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +04mins 13.2secs
11. Eyvind Brynildsen
Skoda Fabia S2000 +04mins 22.5secs
12. Aaron Burkart
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +04mins 41.2secs
13. Jarkko Nikara
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +04mins 41.5secs
14. Martin Prokop
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo +04mins 48.0secs
15. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo +04mins 48.9secs
Overall PWRC after SS3 / Top 3:
1. Eyvind Brynildsen
Skoda Fabia S2000 41mins 45.7secs
2. Martin Prokop
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo +00mins 25.5secs
3. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo +00mins 26.4secs
* denotes elected/able to re-start under SupeRally format.
M - denotes Manufacturer entry.
MT - denotes Manufacturer Team entry.
P - denotes Production WRC entry.
all times unofficial
by Peter Hughes in Rally of Great Britain HQ.