Sebastien Loeb's quest to claim a record-breaking ninth ADAC Rallye Deutschland victory got off to a good start as he established an early lead over the opening three stages.
A strong start for the Frenchman, an inspired decision to adopt softer compound tyres over the opening loop would prove crucial for both himself and his Citroen team-mate Sebastien Ogier, Loeb dropping minor seconds on the dry first stage, only to sprint ahead over the damper SS2 and SS3.
Even so, Loeb has Ogier for close company just 4.4secs behind, the youngster shadowing his team-mate as they opened up an advantage of more than 30 seconds over third place man Mikko Hirvonen in the best of the Ford Fiestas.
“It was a risk with the tyre choice and I expected to lose some time in the stages where it was not raining,” said Loeb. “Finally I think we have done a good choice but we have a big race with Sebastien Ogier.”
Embarking on its first-ever tarmac rally, the MINI John Cooper Works team is enjoying an excellent start with both Dani Sordo and Kris Meeke proving fairly competitive on the sealed surface as they held positions fourth and fifth after three stages, ahead of sixth place Petter Solberg.
The big loser over the morning loop was Jari-Matti Latvala, whose harder tyre option saw him lead after stage one, only to drop back in the slippery conditions of stages two and three. A puncture would go on to compound his misery, the Finn now more than two minutes adrift in seventh position.
Henning Solberg runs as the best of the Stobart Fords in eighth after team-mate Mads Ostberg lost almost ten minutes with suspension damage, while local driver Aaron Burkart is 12th and Matthew Wilson runs 15th after suffering a spin on stage two.
Kimi Raikkonen and Dennis Kuipers round out the top ten, though Armindo Araujo in the Motorsport Italia MINI is breathing down their necks in 11th after recovering from an earlier spin to set the seventh best time on SS3. Further back, Ken Block is also down the order in 18th after losing time with a puncture.
In the SWRC class, Martin Prokop led initially before crashing, handing the lead to Skoda's Juho Hanninen, the Finn being chased by Ott Tanak in second and Hermann Gassner Jr. in third.
Rallye Deutschland: Overall standings after Stage 3 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 39mins 34.2secs
2. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 04.4secs
3. Mikko Hirvonen
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 35.2secs
4. Dani Sordo
Mini WRT John Cooper Works +00mins 55.6secs
5. Kris Meeke
Mini WRT John Cooper Works +01mins 10.5secs
6. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +01mins 16.8secs
7. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 00.8secs
8. Henning Solberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 03.4secs
9. Kimi Raikkonen
ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC +02mins 07.1secs
10. Dennis Kuipers
FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 11.6secs
11. Armindo Araujo
Motorsport Italia Mini John Cooper Works +02mins 16.5secs
12. Aaron Burkart
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 18.2secs
13. Juho Hanninen
Red Bull Skoda Fabia S2000 +02mins 22.8secs
14. Peter van Merksteijn
Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC +02mins 41.1secs
15. Matthew Wilson
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 47.0secs
17. Hans Weijs Jr
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +03mins 00.2secs
18. Ken Block
Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 09.7secs
22. Christian Riedemann
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +03mins 54.8secs
29. Daniel Oliveira
Brazil WRT Mini John Cooper Works +05mins 31.8secs
39. Mads Ostberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +09mins 04.4secs
SWRC standings after Stage 3 (Top 3):
1. Juho Hanninen
Red Bull Skoda Fabia S2000 41mins 57.0secs
2. Ott Tanak
Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 31.6secs
3. Hermann Gassner Jr.
Red Bull Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 49.7secs
all times unofficial