Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb has laid down the gauntlet this morning on Rally Bulgaria, the seventh round in the 2010 World Rally Championship.

Loeb was quickest in both stages - 8.6 seconds up on Dani Sordo in the 31.77 kilometre-run through Batak Lake, before beating Petter Solberg by 5.9 seconds in the 27.57 kilometre Belmeken Lake. He now heads into the mid-day service with a 16 second cushion.

"It was good, a very good start," said the Frenchman. "Everything with the car was perfect. I tried to push hard from the start. I am very satisfied with what we have done so far. The grip was not so bad. It was okay, but you cannot really compare it to another tarmac rally. In general it is wide and fast here. It is impressive to drive."

Sebastien Ogier meanwhile heads the chasing pack, having moved up to P2 and ahead of Dani Sordo in the second stage. Ogier is currently 2.6 seconds in front of the Spaniard, but he was not particularly happy with his C4 and he lost a wing mirror in SS1 when he clipped a wall.

"I had a lot of understeer," Ogier explained. "It is not a good feeling to drive. But second is positive. Seb is very fast and it is difficult when you see his splits - every time it is a bit more and a bit more. Even if you try it is very difficult to follow him. We hope to continue like this now and if we can fight with him that would be nice. But it could all depend on the weather this afternoon."

Away from the top-three, Petter Solberg lies fourth and only just behind the battle for second on his first event with new co-driver, Chris Patterson.

F1 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen completes the top five, to underline Citroen's utterly dominant start to this event. Although he is 13.9 seconds off Solberg, he has a good cushion - 7.3 seconds - over Mikko Hirvonen, the lead Ford, in P6.

"It was okay," said Raikkonen. "In the first stage we were a bit careful. But there was a lot of sand and mud on the road. That was the big problem for us because we are starting so far back. Hopefully we can keep this place this afternoon and tomorrow we should have a better start position."

Hirvonen, who was sixth quickest in both tests, and who opted for Pirelli's hard compound PZero tyre, said his pace-notes weren't quick right.

"The opening stage was smooth with shiny asphalt but the next test was more abrasive with good grip, especially at the beginning. I wasn't so confident with my pace notes, sometimes they were too fast for the roads and sometimes too slow," he confirmed. "The car felt good when conditions were dirty and damp. I tried to be neat and tidy and take racing lines but the times weren't as good as I hoped. We'll lower the suspension settings on the car for the afternoon stages."

Jari-Matti Latvala also didn't go that well and he lies seventh in the other BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT-run Ford Focus RS WRC car. The 25-year-old is confident though that he can up his pace this afternoon.

"I made no mistakes but I can improve my driving. When I entered long corners under braking the car felt a little unbalanced, too soft at the front and lifting at the rear. We'll make the car harder at the front and that will help the stability under braking. In the short, tighter corners the car felt good, it was just the longer bends where I struggled a little," he stated.

Further down the order, Stobart Ford 'guest' runner, Per-Gunnar Andersson is eighth, 30 seconds off Latvala and ahead of Peugeot 307 WRC runner, Frigyes Turan and Britain's Matthew Wilson.

"I was cautious during the two stages this morning but I'm happy with the car and how everything is going so far," said P-G. "I've had no problems with the brakes and the ride height of the car is good. The main change we'll make to the car during service is to stiffen everything up a bit. It was dry for the stages this morning and I hope it will stay that way for the rest of the day. I'll certainly be looking to go quicker this afternoon but I'm pleased with how everything is going so far."

Wilson added: "The opening stage was really difficult and possibly the worst stage to start a rally with - it was the longest of the event and it's been a long time since I've driven on tarmac so it was a rude awakening. We suffered from long brake travel and the stages were dirty on some corners. There were also some damp patches and the second half of SS2 was very bumpy. We're going to make some small changes to the car at service and this will help to build my confidence for this afternoon's stages."

In the JWRC meanwhile, Mathieu Arzeno is out front, 4.3 seconds up on fellow Citroen C2 S1600 man, Thierry Neuville. Arzeno and Neuville are 12th and 13th in the overall standings, with Henning Solberg in P11 - 16.4 seconds in front on his first outing in a Ford Fiesta S2000. Skoda Fabia S2000 runner Dimitar Iliev and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo man Jasen Popov complete the top 15.

The opening leg now continues at 14.37 hours local time with both of this morning's stages due to be repeated to conclude the day. There is said to be a high probability of rain this afternoon in SS4.

Rally Bulgaria: Overall standings after Stage 2 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 32mins 42.3secs M
2. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +00mins 16.0secs M
3. Dani Sordo Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 18.6secs M
4. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +00mins 20.4secs A8
5. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +00mins 34.3secs M
6. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 41.6secs M
7. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 46.7secs M
8. Per-Gunnar Andersson Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +01mins 19.3secs M
9. Frigyes Turan Peugeot 307 WRC +01mins 33.8secs A8
10. Matthew Wilson Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +02mins 01.8secs M

JWRC Standings after Stage 2 (Top 3):

1. Mathieu Arzeno Citroen C2 S1600 35mins 25.5secs J
2. Thierry Neuville Citroen C2 S1600 +00mins 04.3secs J
3. Hans Weijs Citroen C2 S1600 +00mins 09.3secs J

all times unofficial