Thierry Neuville has concluded the first full day of competition in the lead on Rallye de France-Alsace, the latest round in the 2013 World Rally Championship.

The Qatar World Rally Team man began the leg in second place, following the short opening Strasbourg Power Stage on Thursday, and he got off to a steady start, posting the sixth fastest time in SS2. He was then second in SS3 and SS4 to head back for the mid-day service third overall, 3.7 seconds off Sebastien Loeb.

On the repeat loop this afternoon, however, Neuville got his tyre choice - four hards - spot on, and with conditions staying dry, was quickest in all three tests in his M-Sport-run Ford Fiesta RS WRC.

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That allowed him to take the lead in SS6 and then pull ahead in SS7. The Belgian now concludes the leg with a 9.8 second advantage.

"It has been a perfect afternoon for us. We had faultless information from the team and our weather crews - so a big congratulations to them because we would not be in first place if it was not for them! I felt really comfortable and we were able to push without taking any big risks. I felt confident all day," said Neuville.

"It will be a new experience for me running first on the road. I have never been first [on the road] on tarmac so I will have to learn quickly. I will have to make my own lines and I won't have the benefit of seeing the other drivers' braking points and if there is standing water it could be difficult. But I am happy to be in first place this evening, and we will just have to wait and see if I am still holding this position tomorrow."

Overnight leader Dani Sordo meanwhile is second in his Citroen DS3 WRC, having set top-three times in every test thus far, except SS4 when he was fourth: "The balance of the car wasn't perfect [this afternoon] but that's to be expected given the tyre set-up we opted for. I'm pleased with my position - there is still a long way to go in the rally and I'm certain there will be plenty more surprises in store as regards the weather," Sordo stated.

Jari-Matti Latvala completes the provisional podium for Volkswagen, 1.9 seconds back, but not so happy with his afternoon: "I am disappointed with that performance, I stayed with a soft setup and that was wrong - I should have gone with a stiffer setup. My mistake, not a good idea, but that's the way it is," stated the Finn.

"We can be very satisfied with third place so far though," he added. "We are fast enough to keep pace with the front-runners without taking too many risks. Our Polo felt very good right from the first stage and we have concentrated on finding a good rhythm.

"We definitely have room for improvement, but it is important for us to play it relatively safe and stick to our goal of scoring valuable points for the Manufacturers' Championship. It would obviously also be nice to really push hard here - but I have never won the Manufacturers' Championship with any team, and this potential second title would be a great reward for the entire team."

Behind, Loeb is fourth on his final outing in the WRC and his first since Argentina some five months ago. The Frenchman seemed to be immediately back on form this morning and won all three tests in his Citroen to build an early 3.7 second cushion. However he slipped back on the second runs, having selected the wrong tyres.

"Quite simply, we made the wrong call," Loeb admitted. "Obviously, it's not enjoyable to fall back from first to fourth place, but the gaps are still sufficiently small for us to remain positive. Before the start of the rally, the question was would I be able to fight for the win. Well, we're very much in the hunt, and that's the main thing!"

Compatriot Sebastien Ogier is next up and fifth, although after clinching the 2013 WRC Drivers' title last night, his mind - somewhat understandably - seemed to be a bit elsewhere. He finished the day 28.7 seconds off Neuville and 16.5 seconds off Loeb.

"To be honest, I had difficulty making sure I was completely switched on for this morning's stages," Ogier conceded. "On the one hand, I did not really sleep very well, as there was still so much going on in my head after such an amazing day. And I also took it rather cautiously, as I did not under any circumstances want to go flying off the road on my first day as World Champion.

"This afternoon was much better, but unfortunately we did not get the tyre selection quite right. However, that is no excuse and certainly is not intended to detract from the performance of the opposition. Thierry in particular produced a very impressive display. Respect!"

Further back, Evgeny Novikov came in sixth, while Andreas Mikkelsen, Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Ostberg hold positions 7 through to 9, split by less than 12 seconds. Martin Prokop rounds out the top ten.

"The afternoon has been OK, and this time we were on the right tyres for the conditions," said Novikov. "I feel like we are driving well and that we are learning and improving our confidence with each new stage. There is still a long way to go in this event, so we will just have to wait and see what tomorrow brings."

"A difficult day for us. Given today's changing conditions, there were definitely better starting positions than ours," added Mikkelsen. "The day got off to a really good start in the dry, but then it began to rain heavily in the final few kilometres of the day's second stage. I lost twelve seconds on that final sector alone - and there was nothing I could do about it.

"The third special stage alternated between dry and wet, making it difficult for me to judge the grip level, so I erred on the side of caution. When it comes down to it, every kilometre of experience is important for me at my first asphalt rally in the Polo R WRC. The tyre selection was not the best: we were underway on hard tyres when soft would have been better - and then on softs when the harder tyres would have been the better choice. Despite this, I am happy with our performance."

Robert Kubica heads the WRC2 class and lies eleventh overall, 3.5 minutes up on Elfyn Evans. Evans had to stop and change a puncture in SS3, losing over 2 minutes. Rashid Al-Ketbi is third in WRC2.

In the other support categories, Quentin Gilbert leads the WRC3 runners, while in the JWRC, Yeray Lemes is on top.

Rallye de France now continues on Saturday with six stages on the bill and around 135 competitive kilometres.

SS8, the 28.48 km Hohlandsbourg-Firstplan 1 test, is due to start at 09.23 hours local time [08.23 hours UK time].

Rallye de France-Alsace: Overall standings after Stage 7 (Top 10):

1. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC 1hr 08m 56.5s M
2. Dani Sordo Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00m 09.8s M
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 11.8s M
4. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 12.2s M
5. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 28.7s M
6. Evgeny Novikov Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 03.6s M
7. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +01m 26.4s M
8. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +01m 33.5s M
9. Mads Ostberg Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 37.5s M
10. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02m 36.3s M


11. Robert Kubica Citroen DS3 RRC +03m 56.6s WRC2
12. Lionel Baud Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04m 34.2s
13. Romain Dumas Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05m 00.5s
14. Elfyn Evans Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta R5 +07m 27.6s WRC2
15. Quentin Gilbert Citroen DS3 R3T +07m 41.4s WRC3
16. Sebastien Chardonnet Citroen DS3 R3T +08m 21.8s WRC3

Rallye de France-Alsace: Power Stage / SS1 (Top 3):

1. Dani Sordo Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 03m 20.8s M
2. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 00.7s M
3. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 00.8s M

NOTE: Top three finishers in Power Stage are awarded bonus points. 1st = 3 points; 2nd = 2 points; 3rd = 1 point

WRC2 standings after Stage 7 (Top 3):

1. Robert Kubica Citroen DS3 RRC 1h 12m 53.1s WRC2
2. Elfyn Evans Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta R5 +03m 31.0s WRC2
3. Rashid Al-Ketbi Ford Fiesta R5 +06m 08.6s WRC2

WRC3 standings after Stage 7 (Top 3):

1. Quentin Gilbert Citroen DS3 R3T 1h 16m 37.9s WRC3
2. Sebastien Chardonnet Citroen DS3 R3T +00m 40.4s WRC3
3. Keith Cronin Citroen DS3 R3T +01m 16.3s WRC3

JWRC standings after Stage 7 (Top 3)

1. Yeray Lemes Ford Fiesta R2 1h 18m 26.4s JWRC
2. Pontus Tidemand Ford Fiesta R2 +00m 31.2s JWRC
3. Hugo Arellano Ford Fiesta R2 +01m 26.4s JWRC

Notable retirements:

SS2. Tomas Kostka Citroen DS3 WRC Mechanical

*denotes re-started under the Rally 2 regulations
M denotes Manufacturer entry

all times unofficial