Sebastien Loeb was in brilliant form on the first leg of the Neste Oil Rally Finland on Friday and the Frenchman has built himself a solid advantage following the first 130-odd competitive kilometres.
Loeb, who took the lead last night by setting the pace through the short Killeri super special, was on it from the off in his Citroen
C4 WRC car and he won four stages outright and tied for honours with Mikko Hirvonen
in SS2 and SS6 – when they were both joint fastest.
Consequently he finished the first two loops with a 9.1 second lead.
In the afternoon he managed to successfully defend his position at the head of the pack and while Hirvonen spoilt his run in SS8 and was 0.7 seconds quicker, Loeb was fastest in SS9 and SS10.
After winning the repeat run through Killeri SSS, he concluded the day with a 14.4 second cushion.
"It could be that Mikko has a better position on the road tomorrow although the day was perfect for me today," said the four-time world champion. "I think we have got the settings on the car quite right now - the springs and dampers are perfectly matched. It is difficult to know if running first on the road will give us a disadvantage. There are some new stages tomorrow which are generally sinuous and twisty but we shall see."
Hirvonen meanwhile was the only runner anywhere near Loeb's pace and while he was no doubt disappointed to have been unable to beat his rival, the longest day of the event is still to come.
"Generally the day has been very good and my driving felt really nice. I don't mind being second and although Seb was faster, there are still lots of stages tomorrow - some of which are new, so anything is possible," he added.
"Seb has driven very well today and I think he must now have inherited that Finnish flair - he must be a Finn! For me it has almost been as close as last year. It's a little frustrating but I am not disappointed. It may be that Seb has found something in the car."
Henning Solberg is next up and on course for the final spot on the podium. The Norwegian ended SS2 in tenth, but gradually hauled himself up the order, taking P3 in the penultimate stage.
"Today has went well and it's been a great start to the rally for me. The car has been working well but we started off slowly this morning as it took some time to find a good feeling with the rear of the car," he explained.