Sebastien Loeb heads the pack following the first three stages of Wales Rally GB - although just 0.7 seconds separates him from arch championship rival, Mikko Hirvonen.

Loeb, who goes into the finale in the 2011 WRC eight points up on Hirvonen in the drivers' championship, took the lead in SS3 - the first proper test of the event.

"It is really slippery and the grip is changing every corner," said the Frenchman. "It is very difficult."

Hirvonen, who was quickest in the 15.77 km Clocaenog test and who finished the test with his rear bumper hanging off, agreed that conditions were far from easy: "I had a big moment! Let's say a 'Wales Rally GB' moment. There will be many more of those on this rally. I said I would be cautious in Great Orme and make up time later on. So far, so good," remarked the Ford Abu Dhabi man.

Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile lies third, having slipped behind Loeb and Hirvonen in SS3: "Quite slippery and it feels like the mud is coming to the top of the surface so it makes braking hard," added the columnist following Clocaenog. "We have good stages tomorrow so my confidence will improve."

Further back, Petter Solberg is 'best of the rest' in his privately run Citroen DS3 WRC, albeit already 8.8 seconds off P3. He will be relieved though to have got through the first loop, after bending a steering in arm in the very first test when he went wide at a bend.

MINI WRT duo Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo are next up, fifth and sixth respectively in their John Cooper Works WRC cars and split by 8.6 seconds.

Then come the M-Sport Stobart Fords led by Mads Ostberg, with Ott Tanak, Matt Wilson and Henning Solberg in positions 8 through to 10.

In terms of retirements, the event has already claimed one victim, with Loeb's team-mate, Sebastien Ogier going out in the very first stage, when he took a wheel off. Ogier will re-start tomorrow under the SupeRally.

The action now continues on Friday and includes two loops of four stages with SS4, the 19.72 km Gartheiniog 1 test, due to start at 07.33 hours local time.

Wales Rally GB: Overall standings after Stage 3 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 14mins 38.0secs M
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 00.7secs M
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 03.1secs M
4. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 11.9secs M
5. Kris Meeke MINI WRT John Cooper Works +00mins 18.7secs
6. Dani Sordo MINI WRT John Cooper Works +00mins 27.3secs
7. Mads Ostberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 27.8secs M
8. Ott Tanak M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 30.6secs
9. Matthew Wilson M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 36.5secs M
10. Henning Solberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 37.8secs


11. Kimi Raikkonen ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 45.1secs
12. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 52.0secs
13. Dennis Kuipers FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 53.7secs M
14. Evgeny Novikov Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 57.2secs M
15. Armindo Araujo Motorsport Italia/BAMP MINI John Cooper Works +01mins 08.4secS
16. Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 08.4secs M
18. Peter van Merksteijn Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC +01mins 25.9secs M
20. Jarkko Nikara Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +01mins 32.5secs P

PWRC standings after Stage 3 - Top 3:

1. Jarkko Nikara Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 16mins 10.5secs P
2. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza +00mins 20.0secs P
3. Michal Kosciuszko Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +00mins 36.8secs P

Notable retirements:

SS1. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC Hit a wall and ripped off a wheel M*

*denotes will re-start under SupeRally

all times unofficial