Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has taken the initiative on Rally Finland and following the first three stages near Lahti leads by 7.3 seconds.
Loeb, who was quickest on Wednesday in qualifying, took the lead immediately this evening, outpacing Petter Solberg by 1.6 seconds. The Frenchman then had to settle for second in SS2, the short 2 kilometre Jokimaa super special stage, albeit only 0.1 seconds behind 'Hollywood'.
However in the final test of the day, the 14.22 km Mynnila test, the 38-year-old went flat-out and was 3.2 seconds up on Mads Ostberg – and 7.7 seconds up on Solberg, who slips down to sixth.
“After going fastest in qualifying, I cannot but be pleased to have continued my good form and to lead the rally this evening!” Loeb said. “I wanted to set off at a strong pace on SS1, because the level of grip was good and I felt very good in the car. I am especially pleased with my time on SS3, because it went perfectly. I pushed hard and didn't hold back at all. I couldn't have gone any faster!
“As confirmed during the tests we did last weekend, the DS3 WRC is ideal for these roads. We mustn't get too carried away, however, as this first leg was just a taster for what is to come. The two remaining legs will be much more difficult and the other leading contenders are just a few seconds behind.”
Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile tie for second, the latter complaining he didn't have the right rhythm in SS1. He was also surprised to drop 5 seconds in the final test.
“I was a little too careful in the opening stage, but the second test was fine,” said Latvala. “I thought I drove well in the last stage, but the clock showed that I dropped five seconds. That was frustrating because I don't understand where the time went.
“I tried a new suspension set-up so perhaps I need to think if that was the reason. I pushed hard, so I also need to consider whether I drove too sideways as a result and lost time. The gap is small but tomorrow is much longer and more demanding and I don't want to concede more seconds in the morning.”
“Today's result is pretty much in line with my plans,” Hirvonen added. “Last year, I was over two minutes behind the leader at the end of day one. This time, I'm only seven seconds adrift so I have definitely made progress!