Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has begun Rallye Deutschland in dominant fashion this morning by winning the first three stages.
Loeb, who was quickest on Thursday in the shakedown, completed the opening test, the 24.90 km Mittelmosel 1 test, 5.2 seconds up on his closest rival. He then went quickest again in SS2, to extend his lead by 4.4 seconds, before making it a hat-trick of stage wins in SS3, 2.8 seconds quicker than Jari-Matti Latvala. The Frenchman now heads back to service with a 13.1 second cushion over Petter Solberg.
“The first stages have been very good. We have set three best times, so it is a perfect start,” Loeb said back in Trier. “The feeling with the car was good and I tried to push. The conditions are dry and not too tricky. I tried to take the lead and we are in the lead at the moment, but there is a long way to go.”
Solberg meanwhile heads the chasing pack, the Norwegian having set the second best times in SS1 and SS2 and the third best time in SS3.
“I was on the pace from the start and the car felt good,” Petter said. “The first stage was slippery initially but I took time back near the end when it was drier. I was fastest early in the second and third stages but lost a little time as they progressed. Our safety crew did a good job with accurate information on the conditions. It was a good morning but without the dropped time it could have been even better.”
Jari-Matti Latvala trails his Ford team-mate and is 5.7 seconds back in third, ahead of Citroen Junior World Rally Team man Thierry Neuville, who impressively is 2.5 seconds up on Mikko Hirvonen. Latvala and Hirvonen were both less than happy.
"In the opening stage I tried a combination of hard and soft tyres because I knew the first 8km were slippery,” Latvala explained. "Towards the end the soft tyres became too hot in the dry and I lost some seconds. But I'm glad I tried it, because they gave me confidence at the start. The car set-up was too soft generally and it moved around too much. I made small changes which improved the feeling but now I want to stiffen the settings further. It's hard to know how hard to go because there is a chance of rain this afternoon."
“My confidence on sections where the racing line is a bit dirty is not so good,” Hirvonen added. “I would say that I didn't drive very well this morning. Things were a little better on SS3, and if you look at the splits, you can see that I'm not far off the top guys when the road is clean. We going to try a different shock absorber set-up this afternoon; maybe a more flexible car will suit me better.”
Behind Dani Sordo is sixth for the Prodrive WRC team, gradually improving his pace through the morning loop and ending with a fifth best time in SS3.
Ott Tanak holds seventh with Mads Ostberg, Chris Atkinson and Sebastien Ogier in positions 8 through to 10.
In terms of retirements, Evgeny Novikov went out in the very first test when he took a wheel off. He is expected to rejoin tomorrow under the Rally 2 rules. Paulo Nobre also hit trouble early on and stopped in SS2, while Martin Prokop was sidelined in SS3 when his car caught fire.
In the support categories, Michal Kosciuszko is top in the PWRC, while John MacCrone leads the way in the WRC Academy.
The action now continues this afternoon with a repeat-run through this morning's three stages. SS4, Mottelmosel 2, is due to start at 16.17 hours local time [15.17 hours UK time].
Rallye Deutschland: Overall standings after Stage 3 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 41mins 22.1secs
2. Petter Solberg
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 13.1secs
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 18.8secs
4. Thierry Neuville
Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 25.5secs
5. Mikko Hirvonen
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 28.0secs
6. Dani Sordo
Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Coopers Works WRC +00m 34.9secs
7. Ott Tanak
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 49.0secs
8. Mads Ostberg
Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 55.2secs
9. Chris Atkinson
WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +01m 22.5secs
10. Sebastien Ogier
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +01mins 54.6secs
11. Andreas Mikkelsen
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +02mins 12.4secs
12. Peter van Merksteijn Jr
van Merksteijn Motorsport Citroen DS3 WRC +02mins 13.7secs
13. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +2mins 37.5secs
PWRC standings after Stage 3 - Top 3:
1. Michal Kosciuszko
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 45mins 27.7secs
2. Benito Guerra
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +00mins 16.0secs
3. Marcos Ligato
Subaru Impreza STi +00mins 54.8secs
SS1. Evgeny Novikov
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC Went off
SS2. Paulo Nobre
WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC Stopped in stage
SS3. Martin Prokop
Czech Ford National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC Car caught fire
all times unofficial