Citroen's Sebastien Loeb remains comfortably in the lead of Rally Bulgaria following the first loop this morning, which was shorter than planned after SS7 was cancelled due to the volume of spectators.

Loeb, who began leg two 28.1 seconds up on Dani Sordo, was quickest through the first test of the day, the 27.46 kilometre Sestrimo 1. Indeed despite the fact conditions were tricky following localised rain, Seb pushed on and was 5.4 seconds faster than his team-mate, who led the chasing pack.

Loeb eased off a bit in the next test, complaining that he didn't have a good rhythm, but even so he was still second, and with Sordo only 3.4 seconds faster, the Frenchman maintained his comfortable lead.

Indeed after organisers had to abandon running the 24.86 kilometre Lyubnitsa test, Loeb returned to the mid-day service with a 30 second cushion, 1.9 seconds better off than he was last night.

"At the moment it is going well," said Loeb. "The feeling is still very good. The stages are quite tricky today, so we have to be a bit careful. But it was okay."

Citroen privateer Petter Solberg meanwhile was unable to stay with Sordo this morning, and he saw the gap to P2 increase from 9.9 seconds 26.8.

Away from the top three, Sebastien Ogier moved up to fourth, getting ahead of BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT men Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala after a tyre gamble left them hopelessly off the pace in SS5. Both were over 40 seconds off Ogier in Sestrimo 1, and while the hard tyres weren't such an issue in SS6, the damage had already been done.

"On the information we had from the weather service and our safety crew, hard tyres were the only option," Latvala explained. "Until I reached the start of the first stage the roads were dry, then conditions became damp and I knew it would be difficult in the stage. I made the damper settings softer before the next stage and the driving was easier as a result. It's a pity the last stage was cancelled because it was dry and hot and the roads would have been perfectly suited to our tyres."

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson added that the tyre choice was based on information provided by an expert weather service in Britain, which provides highly detailed forecasts to the team specific to the rally area.

"The service has always been very good and this morning we received confident advice that there would be no rain. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case and our tyres were totally wrong for the cold, damp conditions," he said.

Further down the order, Per-Gunnar Andersson lies seventh, albeit 1 minute 20.9 seconds adrift on his debut outing with the Stobart Ford team. Frigyes Turan is eighth, just 9.9 seconds back in his Peugeot 307 WRC, followed by Britain's Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg's Ford Fiesta S2000.

"I'm really disappointed that the last stage was cancelled this morning as I'm sure I would have got a good time," said P-G. "The first stage was really slippery but was more abrasive about half way through which suited us better - we definitely made the wrong tyre choice though.

"I felt like everything was running much more smoothly in the second stage and managed to pick up the pace. I think we'll keep things the same for this afternoon's stages though but I'm just praying that the rain stays off."

Wilson added: "We had nothing to lose this morning so opted for the soft compound tyres [unlike my Ford team-mates] which was a good decision considering today's changeable weather conditions. The first stage was damp to start, then got foggy and wet towards the end and I could really feel the change in altitude at the end of the stage.

"We didn't have any more major dramas for the rest of the morning apart from the launch control failing at the start of SS6. The car is going fine and feels like I've got a better balance, the rear definitely isn't as lively as it was yesterday."

F1 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen incidentally, was able to re-join the fold this morning under the SupeRally, and was fifth and eighth quickest in SS5 and SS6 respectively, to haul himself up from 26th overall to 20th. He had been fourth yesterday prior to his off in SS4.

In the JWRC, Thierry Neuville now leads in his Citroen C2 S1600, after overnight leader Mathieu Arzeno lost time on the morning loop and dropped to 5th. Hans Weijs was promoted to second as a result, 51.2 seconds off P1, with Renault men Yeray Lemes and Kevin Abbring third and fourth.

The second leg now concludes with a repeat of run through the morning loop. Following the problems in SS7 though, the schedule is now running about 25-30 minutes late, which means SS8 - Sestrimo 2 - should start around 13.50 hours local time.

Rally Bulgaria: Overall standings after Stage 7 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 1hour 32mins 21.2secs M
2. Dani Sordo Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 30.0secs M
3. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +00mins 56.8secs A8
4. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +01mins 59.9secs M
5. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +02mins 32.1secs M
6. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +02mins 40.2secs M
7. Per-Gunnar Andersson Stobart Ford Focus WRC +04mins 01.1secs M
8. Frigyes Turan Peugeot 307 WRC +04mins 11.0secs A8
9. Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford Focus WRC +05mins 42.0secs M
10. Henning Solberg Stobart Ford Fiesta S2000 +07mins 41.2secs N4


20. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +12mins 07.3secs M

JWRC Standings after Stage 7 (Top 3):

1. Thierry Neuville Citroen C2 S1600 1hour 40mins 30.0secs J
2. Hans Weijs Citroen C2 S1600 +00mins 51.2secs J
3. Yeray Lemes Renault C2 S16000 +01mins 33.3secs J

Notable retirements:

SS4. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC Crashed M*

* denotes elected/able to re-start under SupeRally.

all times unofficial