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Loeb leads after opening loop in Finland

Sebastian Loeb leads for Citroen after the opening three stages of Rally Finland
Sebastian Loeb will lead into the first full day of Rally Finland after emerging from the opening three stages of the event with the early lead.

The Citroen driver will take a lead of 2.8secs into Friday's stages but will be forced to sweep the road for the pack behind having topped the times from the second stage, where he moved into the lead of the event. The fastest time on the final short stage of the evening allowed him to slightly extend his lead over his team-mate.

Jari-Matti Latvala leads the Ford challenge following the opening evening and will start Friday's stages 4.4secs off the lead in third place, the 26-year-old employing tactics to slow towards the end of the second stage to give him a better position in the running order for day two.

"During the second stage the team sent a message into the car giving me a target time to ensure I was third in the start order tomorrow," he said. "I slowed down towards the finish to make sure I achieved that target and the plan worked perfectly. I'm happy with my position for the morning.

"I was cautious on the opening stage and made a couple of small mistakes on the final test but nothing that cost time. All I'm concentrating on is tomorrow as I don't want to put extra pressure on myself, because this rally brings enough of that already. There was great excitement and pressure before the start, but now the event is under way I can relax and focus on my driving."

However, Latvala has already been left to fly the flag for Ford in terms of victory after team-mate Mikko Hirvonen lost time with an off-road excursion on the opening stage after his Fiesta's engine died.

The resultant damage forced him to carry out running repairs after stage two before he eventually returned to service more than two minutes off the pace down in 36th place.

"The engine died midway through a fast, fifth gear left corner and without any drive the car slid wide and the rear right hit a tree," Hirvonen said. "The impact damaged the brakes and suspension. Those issues caused more problems in the next stage and about 5km from the finish, the brake calliper jammed between the wheel and the damper. The wheel dragged all the way to the end, puncturing the tyre.

"It's disappointing because it's the second year in a row that I've had problems early in my home rally, although last year was due to a crash. I wanted to fight for a win and after a strong test last week, I felt that was something I could achieve. All I can do now is drive flat out through the final two days and see how far I can climb back up the order."




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