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Loeb in command on the Rallye Deutschland.


Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb has taken command of the tenth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rallye Deutschland, which started in earnest from Trier this morning.

The young Frenchman set fastest times on all but one of today's special stages to hold a half-minute lead over reigning world champion Richard Burns, with Loeb's team-mate Philippe Bugalski in third overnight.

Germany's first ever round of the world championship attracted huge crowds from all over central Europe, and the organisers had to delay some stages to keep fans under control. The day's seventh stage was cancelled when it became clear that spectator safety could not be guaranteed.

Sebastien Loeb's Citroen Xsara WRC has been reliable, but his team-mates have not been so fortunate. Philippe Bugalski's car has suffered from brake fade, while Jesus Puras retired his example with electrical problems this morning.

Loeb has been the fastest man on today's opening leg. The young Frenchman was third fastest on the first test but he then embarked on a run of scratch times through stages two to eight to grab the lead and build up an overnight advantage of nearly half a minute.

His team-mate Philippe Bugalski lost time with occasional brake problems but he has been regularly in the top six times and that consistency moved him into third overnight, albeit nearly 50 seconds behind the leader.

The third Xsara driver, late entry Jesus Puras, retired this morning with electrical problems.

''It's been going very well today,'' commented Loeb. ''Yes, we've been attacking quite hard but there's no option to do anything else on a world championship rally these days. I've got a good feeling with the car - it's behaving well and the times have obviously been good. But there's a long way still to go and tomorrow's stages are different from today.''

Team-mate Philippe Bugalski noted: ''Sebastien is driving very well, of course, but it's hard for me to have total confidence because of these little brake problems. You have to be able to commit to corners on stages like today, especially with all of the junctions, but that's been difficult for me. I hope things improve tomorrow and then we can attack more.''

At Peugeot meanwhile Marcus Grönholm lost time on this morning's third stage, when his 206 WRC lost hydraulic pressure. He had to switch both the gearshift and the throttle system to manual control but even then, he was left without differential pressure and it cost him around 40 seconds. He picked up a further 30-second penalty when his service team needed extra time to cure the problem and he was late leaving service.



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