Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb almost doubled his lead on Rally Bulgaria this afternoon, the seventh round in the 2010 World Rally Championship.

Loeb, who was quickest in both stages this morning, once again set the marker this afternoon, 2.7 seconds up on Dani Sordo in SS3, the 31.77 kilometre-run through Batak Lake, and 6.8 seconds ahead of the Spaniard in SS4, the 27.57 kilometre Belmeken Lake test.

He now heads into the overnight service having increased his lead from 16 seconds to 28.1.

"Everything went off like a dream for us," said Loeb. "The stages were a bit dirty first time through, but not too bad. We did just enough in the very tricky sections and we didn't make any mistakes. The car was perfect.

"For the moment the scenario is ideal, but I'm still a bit cautious. It's a new rally and we're finding out about the stages in the race. Mistakes can always happen, or we could have a puncture, or there could be a sudden change in the weather."

Sordo meanwhile finished the day second, and while he hadn't been too happy with his car after the morning loop, he felt better post-SS4.

"After the modifications we made at midday, I found that the car was much easier to drive and more in keeping with what I'm used to," explained the Spaniard. "I was able to push harder. S?bastien's setting a searing pace today and he's already opened up a small gap. My job will probably be a bit easier tomorrow as I'm second out on the road. We'll try and close the gap to Seb."

Petter Solberg completes the provisional podium at this very early stage, and he is only 9.9 seconds off Sordo, an impressive feat, especially as this is his first outing with new co-driver, Chris Patterson.

"It's been a fantastic day today, and I'm very happy with third," said Solberg. "I am also very impressed with my new co-driver. After 10 kilometres into the first stage, he was already up to the pace.

"We lost some time on SS4 when the rear right tyre went off the rim, and I think we would have been closer to Sordo if that didn't happened. But this is also only my second event in a C4 on tarmac, first one was in Spain 2009, so there are a lot of new aspects this weekend."

Further down the order, BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT men Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala round out the top five, although disappointingly they are already more than 30 seconds off the trio of Citroen's in front.

Hirvonen managed to improve his pace a bit on the repeat loop and was fourth in SS3 and fifth in SS4: "The afternoon was better. The changes we made to the set-up helped and I also drove better. I was more committed and aggressive at the wheel, although I made a few small mistakes," Hirvonen said.

"The slippery sections seem to be better for us than the dry roads so perhaps rain over the next two days would help. The team worked hard during the summer break and the car feels better in some areas. I think that my asphalt driving has also improved so we'll continue to push tomorrow and try to close the gap on those ahead of us."

Latvala also felt more confident on the repeat loop: "I made no mistakes this morning but I felt I could improve my driving. The afternoon was better and my times improved. I was driving pretty much at the same speed as Mikko all day. The roads were wet, muddy and covered in gravel in places this afternoon and I'm glad we had safety crews in place to relay that information to us before we drove the stages," he said.

After Latvala, Sebastien Ogier now lies sixth, having lost over a minute in SS3 when he misheard a pace-note. He had been second after SS2.

"I went off. I didn't understand the pace-note. I arrived with too much speed in the corner and it was too late," Ogier explained. "We went straight on and it cost us a lot of time, but luckily we are still in the rally. We're going to make the most of it in order to gain more experience. Now we have to try and hunt down the Fords. I had a good feeling with the car in the afternoon. The team did a lot of good work on the set-up of our Citroen C4 WRC. The rally is still long and anything can still happen."

Ogier's Citroen Junior team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen also had a problematic afternoon. He had been fourth, when he crashed out in the final stage of the day. The Finn and co-driver, Kaj Lindstrom both escaped unhurt, but SS4 was delayed as a result.

"We went off on a slow corner after 19 kilometres," Lindstrom explained. "We just slid towards the outside of the corner, went off the road, and landed on our roof. We were able to get out of the car straight away. Hopefully, we can start the rally again tomorrow."

Of the rest, Per-Gunnar Andersson is seventh, on his debut outing with the Stobart Ford team, followed by Peugeot 307 WRC man Frigyes Turan, who is just 12.3 seconds adrift, and then Britain's Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg. Henning incidentally is competing in a Ford Fiesta S2000 this weekend.

"The road surface was much dirtier this afternoon but I felt like everything was going better," said Andersson. "During the faster sections, I was being much more cautious but after today I am feeling more confident so this should help me to push harder tomorrow.

"The car has been going well generally and after everything was made stiffer during the first service, it really helped with the handling. The brakes have been excellent but the ride height will be raised slightly tonight to help tackle tomorrow's bumpy stages."

Wilson added: "Everything went OK today but it's taken me longer than I thought it would to get used to driving on asphalt again. The first 10k of SS3 was fine but I lost some time during the middle of the stage when the road surface was much bumpier.

"I also felt like the wheels were starting to lift towards the end of the stage which cost me more time. The back of the car feels a bit lively too - we might soften the rear going in to tomorrow's stages so it doesn't unsettle the front as much as it did today. If these small problems are fixed, I'll gain more confidence and hopefully produce some faster stage times."

In the JWRC meanwhile, Mathieu Arzeno still leads, although he is only 3.2 seconds up on fellow Citroen C2 S1600 man, Thierry Neuville. Hans Weijs completes the Junior top-three, 20.2 seconds further back.

The action now continues on Saturday and day two includes 141 competitive kilometres split over two loops of three stages. SS5, the 27.46 kilometre-run through Sestrimo 1, begins at 07.43 hours local time.

Rally Bulgaria: Overall standings after Stage 4 / Day 1 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 1hour 05mins 26.7secs M
2. Dani Sordo Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 28.1secs M
3. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +00mins 38.0secs A8
4. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +01mins 10.9secs M
5. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +01mins 21.2secs M
6. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +01mins 31.3secs M
7. Per-Gunnar Andersson Stobart Ford Focus WRC +02mins 26.3secs M
8. Frigyes Turan Peugeot 307 WRC +02mins 49.1secs A8
9. Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford Focus WRC +03mins 45.6secs M
10. Henning Solberg Stobart Ford Fiesta S2000 +04mins 43.4secs N4

JWRC Standings after Stage 4 / Day 1 (Top 3):

1. Mathieu Arzeno Citroen C2 S1600 1hour 10mins 44.3secs J
2. Thierry Neuville Citroen C2 S1600 +00mins 01.8secs J
3. Hans Weijs Citroen C2 S1600 +00mins 29.1secs J

Notable retirements:

SS4. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC Crashed M

all times unofficial