Reigning world champion, Sebastien Loeb
leads the Rallye de France-Tour de Corse, the fifth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, following the opening leg on Friday.
Loeb took the lead from the off, by going 8.3 seconds quicker than his nearest rival through SS1. Furthermore while his lead was cut to 4.9 seconds heading into the mid-day service after he was only second quickest through SS2, he dominated the repeat runs of both tests this afternoon, winning both and stretching his lead to 19.9 seconds going into the second leg.
The Frenchman was more than happy with the pace of his Kronos Racing ran Xsara and looks well set to win his third event in succession and repeat his success from 2005, when he dominated this event.
BP Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm is the only driver that is likely to stand in his way. The Finn has been 'there or there abouts' through-out the first day and even managed to win SS2. Gronholm though seemingly had no answer for the Frenchman's speed this afternoon and had to settle for the second quickest time through SS3 and SS4. He was at a loss to explain why he was losing time to Loeb and will be eager to close the gap tomorrow.
Alex Bengue meanwhile is third in his privately entered Peugeot 307 - the Frenchman is about a minute off the battle for the lead, but 8 seconds up on Mikko Hirvonen, who had gone in front in SS3, before a stall in SS4 dropped him back down to fourth. The Finn was happier this afternoon, but felt that he still needed to do more to go quicker in the second works Focus.
Further down the order-board, Daniel Sordo
is fifth, despite problems in the opening test, which meant he could only set the 13th quickest time. The Spaniard recovered in SS2 though and by the end of play was well on course to secure some drivers' points, just under 10 seconds up on his Kronos Citroen
team-mate Xavier Pons, who is sixth.
Stobart VK driver, Jari-Matti Latvala
and Nicolas Vouilloz round out the provisional drivers' points scorers, the former having had a good day in his Focus, backing up his form in the pre-event shakedown on Thursday when he set the fifth quickest time.
OMV Peugeot driver, Manfred Stohl lies ninth, 6 seconds behind Vouilloz, while Stephane Sarrazin is the lead Subaru in tenth, followed by Francois Duval, who has continued to struggle with brake problems like he did in Spain and then Jan Kopecky and Gigi Galli, who is making his first appearance in the Pirelli liveried Peugeot 307.
Petter Solberg ended the day a disappointing 14th, after going off the road in the first test and hitting a bank. That incident damaged the right-hand rear corner of the Impreza and compressed the exhaust system and as a result of the limited air output from the engine, power was reduced. Although the Norwegian made repairs prior to SS2, he lost first gear in that test and now lies over 3 minutes off the lead.