S?bastien Loeb admitted his relief at having successfully made it to the end of the opening day of this weekend's Rallye de France on home turf - and in the lead, too - as he conceded that as he takes it steady in the treacherous conditions, he could become easy prey for some of his rivals.

Having claimed all four of the morning stage wins, Loeb discovered that the roads had changed significantly by the time it came to the second run through the stages in the afternoon, with the passage of 67 cars having spattered mud everywhere and reduced grip levels dramatically. The home hero was resultantly quickest on only one of the stages - SS6, Firstplan 2 - but his consistency was nevertheless enough to see him extend his advantage come day's end to 22.7 seconds.

"I am glad to be out of that last stage," acknowledged the WRC 'recordman', speaking to the championship's official website. "It was a good day, but the last stage was so tricky, it was very difficult. We had to be really careful; I think we lost 40 seconds, so if somebody coming from behind wants to push maybe they can take me, but I'm happy to be here."

Loeb's Citro?n World Rally Team team-mate Dani Sordo has leapfrogged both S?bastien Ogier and Petter Solberg after struggling during the morning, setting top three stage times throughout - including pacing SS7, Vall?e de Munster 2 - whilst BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala was similarly on a charge, impressively triumphing in SS5 and SS8 as he palpably revelled in the challenging conditions.

"It's an interesting fight," affirmed Sordo, "very close. It was very difficult for the road position this morning, but tomorrow it should be better for me."

"The car is working really well in the narrow and slippery sections," added Latvala. "The last stage was so, so slippery, but it seemed to suit our car."

Whilst the Crash.net columnist has displaced Solberg from P4 by four seconds, team-mate and fellow Finn Mikko Hirvonen conversely continued to lose ground, damaging his wheel rims in a run-in with the mountainside on Grand Ballon 2 to end the day sixth, almost two minutes adrift of Loeb. Former F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen stays a lonely seventh.

In Super 2000, meanwhile, Skoda ace Eyvind Brynildsen holds a narrow 4.6-second advantage over the fired-up Patrik Sandell, Thierry Neuville remains out front in JWRC and in the Production class Armindo Araujo now has almost a full minute in-hand over nearest pursuer Anders Grondaland.

Rallye de France: Overall standings after Stage 8 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 1hr 18mins 27.8secs M
2. Dani Sordo Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 22.7secs M
3. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +00mins 25.6secs M
4. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 41.8secs M
5. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +00mins 45.8secs A8
6. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +01mins 50.8secs M
7. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +03mins 27.4secs M
8. Federico Villagra Munchi's Ford Focus WRC +05mins 34.6secs M
9. Matthew Wilson Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +05mins 58.1secs M
10. Ken Block Ford Focus RS WRC 08 +07mins 01.4secs A8

SWRC Standings after Stage 8 (Top 3):

1. Eyvind Brynildsen Skoda Fabia S2000 1hr 26mins 34.9secs S
2. Patrik Sandell Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 04.6secs S
3. Michal Kosciuszko Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 22.5secs S

JWRC Standings after Stage 8 (Top 3):

1. Thierry Neuville Citroen C2 S1600 1hr 28mins 52.0secs S
2. Hans Weijs Jnr Citroen C2 S1600 +00mins 48.1secs S
3. Mathieu Arzeno Citroen C2 S1600 +00mins 58.5secs S

PWRC Standings after Stage 8 (Top 3):

1. Armindo Araujo Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 28mins 05.3secs P
2. Anders Grondal Subaru Impreza STi +00mins 59.2secs P
3. Ott Tanak Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +01mins 23.9secs P

all times unofficial