Ford's second driver, Francois Duval shone today [Friday] on the Rallye de France-Tour de Corse, the Belgian ending the opening leg 15.1 seconds up on team-mate, Markko Martin.

Duval was quickest through the opening test, and second fastest through SS2, before repeating the feat, when both tests were repeated to conclude the legs 121 competitive kilometres.

"I've made no serious mistakes and my tyre choice has been good," said Duval.

"I really enjoy asphalt rallies and it's good for me when conditions are damp and slippery like this. Some corners this afternoon were tricky because mud had been dragged onto the road during the first pass this morning. My car has been perfect all day and I just hope I can stay in this position until Sunday afternoon."

Martin meanwhile, who won SS2, completed a fine day for Ford, by securing second, and both he, and Duval look good heading into leg 2 tomorrow.

Championship leader, Sebastien Loeb is third, 35.1 seconds off the lead, the Frenchman the 'best of the rest' and currently on course to secure the drivers' title. Loeb admitted to being a tad nervous.

"I had to pick up the pace a bit [in SS4]. Carlos had got ahead me and Marcus Gronholm was not far behind," he stated. "The special stage was dry, my Xsara was perfect again - everything is going well on our side. Petter Solberg appears to be struggling to get on the pace. Things are going in the way we wanted, and I feel slightly less tense now that the match is underway. But nothing is over yet..."

Carlos Sainz also went well in the sister Citroen Xsara WRC, and the Spaniard ended the day fourth, after being demoted by Loeb in the final test of the day.

Continuing the two-by-two formation on leaderboard, Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm was fifth, with Cedric Robert next up in the other 307. Both Peugeot drivers complained that they had selected the wrong tyres this morning.

"It's been a slightly strange day," revealed Gronholm. "I had a very bad feeling in the morning but it seemed to get better in the afternoon.

"The conditions have been extremely tricky and the handling of the car has not always been perfect. But we are still in a strong points-scoring place and I am sure we can make up some more positions tomorrow."

Petter Solberg, the only man left who can possibly challenge Loeb for the title - although albeit this is a long shot - struggled, and was only seventh overall. Like his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen, who was 12th, both drivers selected the wrong tyres.

"I'm very disappointed, but that's how it is sometimes," said 'Hollywood'. "It's very difficult, I tried absolutely everything today, but we struggled. I knew that this would be a tough event, but we are far away and we have to work harder. It's a difficult situation but I wont give up, the end of this rally is a long way off and maybe there will be some rain tomorrow, which should help, we'll just have to wait and see."

Stephane Sarrazin rounded off the top eight, in his Subaru Impreza, ahead of fellow privateer entry, Alexandre Bengue and the Skoda of Armin Schwarz.

Of the remaining works drivers, Freddy Loix and Toni Gardemeister were 11th and 13th respectively, the latter having spun this morning on the opening stage, while Daniel Carlsson was 14th, and Xavier Pons 15th.

Pons leads the Production Car WRC category, 1 minute 49.2 seconds up on Niall McShea, while Alister McRae completes the provisional podium.

There were no major retirements today, and of the 53 starters, just six retired, 47 completing the opening leg.

The second leg tomorrow [Saturday] is the longest and toughest of the rally. After leaving Ajaccio at 07.40, drivers face two identical loops of two stages north of the town, split by service back in Ajaccio. The Vico - Col de Sarzoggiu test is 36.24km and the Peri - Bastelica stage is 40.94km - the longest stages of the rally.

Competitors arrive back in Ajaccio for the overnight halt at 19.05.


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