Reigning world champion, Sebastien Loeb
survived the carnage in Cyprus today [Friday], to conclude the opening leg with a dominant lead.
The Frenchman will head back into the 'Safari' tomorrow - as the event has been likened to - with more than a two minute lead over his nearest challenger.
Despite running first on the road it didn't seem to affect Loeb much, and although Petter Solberg
won the opening test, the Citroen
ace went in front after winning SS2 and hasn't looked back since. Indeed he won all of the remaining tests and thanks to a trouble-free day only needs to get to the finish now to secure the win and of course another 10 points.
"The stages are just as we left them last year," said Loeb at the end of the leg. "Today's longest test [SS1 and SS4] was the worst of all. Incredible! Even driving at a snail's pace it was an absolute bone-shaker. There's no gravel left. We're driving directly over rocks."
Surprisingly two privateer runners round out the provisional podium, with Manfred Stohl second, in his Xsara WRC, while Henning Solberg
holds third, in an M-Sport run Focus.
"I had a minor problem with the gearshift paddle but the car's set-up was perfect and I made a good choice of tyres for this afternoon's loop. I couldn't really ask for better than second place," commented Stohl.
Further down the field Markko Martin is fourth and the lead second works driver. The Estonian recovering well, after a puncture on the opening test this morning, the longest of the event, cost him over a minute.
"Today has not been such a surprise to me," noted Martin. "As soon as I saw the conditions of the stages in the recce I knew it would be like this. I lost time on the first stage but I thought that if I stayed out of trouble I would get it back.
"During the afternoon I had no problems at all so I was able to get back up to fourth. I can't say that I have really enjoyed today, as everything here is a bit of a lottery. But if I continue to steer clear of problems then everything is possible. It's that sort of rally."
Antony Warmbold comes in fifth, while Francois Duval is sixth despite throttle problems in SS3.