Citroen's Sebastien Loeb leads Rallye Deutschland at the end of the opening day, the ninth round in the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship.

Loeb, who is the favourite to win this event - given he has won it every year since 2002, when it first joined the WRC - made a strong start this morning and was immediately quickest in SS1, the 24.01 km Ruwertal / Fell 1 stage, 5.4 seconds up on his team-mate and closest rival, Dani Sordo. The Frenchman then pushed on in SS2 and SS3, taking two more stage wins, to head into the mid-day service with an 8.2 second advantage.

On the repeat loop this afternoon, Loeb maintained his cushion, and while he only won one more stage - topping the times in SS5 - that was enough to see him increase his advantage to 9.5 seconds.

"I love days like this!" Loeb said. "Dani [Sordo] and I have pulled out more than a minute over our nearest rivals. I don't think we could have asked for much more. This afternoon, I set only one fastest time but it's always a bit trickier second time through. The others don't make the same little mistakes as in the first passage. In fact, I got caught out and stalled in a hairpin! But it's all going well and I'm looking forward to the second day in a relaxed frame of mind."

Sordo meanwhile managed to stay closer to Loeb this afternoon, and in the final test he was actually faster than the Frenchman, taking back 0.7 seconds, thanks to his first stage win of the event. It was a good display, especially as he has a new co-driver for this event, namely Diego Vallejo.

"We were chasing a scratch time all day. It's good to be second, and good to be only a handful of seconds behind Seb, but that's not the most important thing for me. I'm very pleased to have been in the rhythm in each split in each stage. I've been looking for this kind of consistency and I'm happy to have found it today. It's all very positive but there's no sense in getting carried away. Tomorrow's stages are nothing like those of the Mosel leg, and we have to drive the very long Panzerplatte stage twice," Sordo said.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT number two, Jari-Matti Latvala is best of the non-Citroens and third overall, although the Finn was only fifth in all three stages this afternoon. As a result he lost more ground to the top two and now lies almost a minute off the battle for the lead.

"My target for this rally was to finish in the top five. Tonight I'm in third, so I'm very happy with that," Latvala said. "It's a strange feeling for me to be in a podium position in an asphalt rally. The car has improved since the last asphalt round in Bulgaria, with a different engine mapping and damper set-up, and it feels more stable.

"I learned a lot about driving on asphalt when I raced in the N?rburgring 24 Hours earlier in the year. I found a better way of braking and turning into corners and I have a faster and more flowing style. There's still work to do with both car and driver but although it's not easy for me on asphalt, I'm enjoying it," added the Rally Finland winner.

Sebastien Ogier, who is back competing with the Citroen Junior Team for this event, is next up, having got ahead of Mikko Hirvonen this afternoon in the repeat run through Grafschaft Veldenz. Ogier improved his pace this afternoon setting two fourth quickest times and a third.

"The afternoon was good," said Ogier. "The car was perfect and I was able to go quickly. Now we need to continue like this. If we were able to get a podium result that would be a fantastic on what is our first Rallye Deutschland in a WRC car."

While Ogier was pleased with his progress though, Hirvonen was unable to match the Frenchman or Latvala. Consequently he is now 3.6 seconds off P4 and 9.8 seconds off third.

"There was a lot of dirt on the road this morning and it was difficult to find my confidence with the changing grip," Hirvonen explained. "I lost some seconds because of that but perhaps I was also over-cautious.

"There was no pattern as to how or where I lost time. Sometimes it was in the slower sections and sometimes in the faster parts. I didn't have the consistency I would like and I need to improve that before the long stage in the military area tomorrow. I need to be ready for that. Thankfully the forecast suggests it will be dry, because I wasn't looking forward to that in the wet."

WRC returnee, Francois Duval has hauled himself back up into the top six despite engine problems on the repeat loop and despite losing time this morning with a driveshaft failure, which cost him over a minute and two places on the leaderboard. Unfortunately though, the Stobart Ford guest man is now almost two minutes off fifth.

"It's not been a great opening day but I guess that it could have been much worse," Duval reflected. "We had problems with the engine this afternoon - I'm not entirely sure what is wrong but we still managed some good times.

"I'm really wanting to get into the top five so will keep pushing tomorrow - I think that we could make up some time on the longer stages, especially the ones that I know from previous years. There were a lot more cuts on the stages this afternoon and we felt a big vibration on SS4 - this was possibly to do with the engine overheating but I'm not sure exactly what it was, it definitely didn't help my confidence. I'd like to do better tomorrow."

Britain's Matthew Wilson ended the day seventh, 4.7 seconds further back in the sister car. His best stage times were three seventh places.

"This afternoon's stages were a lot drier than they were this morning with much more dust on the roads. The brakes were better but we took it more cautiously on SS5 - I'm not as comfortable driving on the hard tyres but it was definitely the right decision, the set-up this morning was far too soft," Wilson noted. "We had a good run on the final stage and I started to enjoy myself some more.

"Tomorrow's going to be tough - it's an early start and the stages are some of the longest we've experienced all year. This could make it easy to make a silly mistake so I need to make sure I get a lot of sleep tonight so that I can maintain a high level of concentration throughout tomorrow."

F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen made a solid start and was eighth quickest in five of the six tests. Unsurprisingly then, he rounded out the top eight, although Wilson will have to watch his back, as the 'ice-man' is only 7.7 seconds adrift.

"My priority was not to make any mistakes. This is also the objective for the whole rally," Raikkonen said. "The drivers at the front are setting a really quick pace, but I'm here to learn and make progress. The first loop of stages allowed me to get off to a good start and get used to using the handbrake on the many hairpin bends. In the afternoon we started picking up a better pace. I felt comfortable in the Citroen C4 WRC and I was able to go a bit quicker without taking any risks. Tomorrow the stages will be very difficult and once more entirely new to me. We'll have to see how it all goes."

Peter Solberg and Ken Block complete the top ten, the former getting off to a bad start when he picked up a puncture in the opening test and lost over 2 minutes. 'Hollywood' has pushed on though, and clawed back time, winning SS4, to show what might have been. He was up to eighth, before losing out with another puncture, this time in SS6, and slipping back down to ninth.

"It's not been the best day today," Petter conceded. "That puncture on the first stage cost us lot of time, and then again we lost time when we had to change the wheel again on the final stage after we touched a bank. That last one was my own fault, as we came wide in corner. We were 2 seconds faster than Loeb when it happened, so apart from the punctures, I think we have proved that we have the speed with this awesome car!"

In the support classes, Martin Prokop has maintained his hold on top spot in SWRC, while Hans Weijs Jr and Armindo Araujo continue to head up the JWRC and PWRC categories respectively.

The action now continues on Saturday and the second leg is the longest of the event, with 186 competitive kilometres on the bill, split over two loops of four stages. SS7, the 11.34 km-run through Hermeskeil / Gusenburg 1, begins at 07.48 hours local time.

Rallye Deutschland: Overall standings after Stage 6 / Day 1 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 1hour 18mins 52.5secs M
2. Dani Sordo Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 09.5secs M
3. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +01mins 04.7secs M
4. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +01mins 10.9secs M
5. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +01mins 14.5secs M
6. Francois Duval Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +03mins 10.4secs M
7. Matthew Wilson Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +03mins 15.1secs M
8. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +03mins 22.8secs M
9. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +04mins 47.7secs A8
10. Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Focus RS WRC +05mins 42.3secs A8

SWRC Standings after Stage 6 / Day 1 (Top 3):

1. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 1hour 25mins 16.2secs S
2. P-G Andersson Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 05.7secs S
3. Patrik Sandell Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 17.8secs S

PWRC Standings after Stage 6 / Day 1 (Top 3):

1. Armindo Araujo Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hour 28mins 16.0secs P
2. Hayden Paddon Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +00mins 28.4secs P
3. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza STi +00mins 34.9secs P

JWRC Standings after Stage 6 / Day 1 (Top 3):

1. Hans Weijs Jr Citroen C2 S1600 1hour 27mins 36.7secs J
2. Yeray Lemes Renault Clio S1600 +01mins 37.9secs J
3. Aaron Burkart Suzuki Swift S1600 +02mins 29.1secs J

Notable retirements:

SS2. Henning Solberg Stobart M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 Mechanical

all times unofficial


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