Sebastien Loeb put in a dominant display on leg one of Rallye de France – Tour de Corse to take a commanding lead of his home event and held Citroen
move a step closer to securing the WRC Manufacturers' standings.
Loeb, who claimed his second successive Drivers' title with a podium finish on Rally Japan, was fastest on each of the four stages which made up the opening leg to take a 41.3sec lead back to the final service halt of the day in Ajaccio, with team-mate Francois Duval second fastest on each stage bar the opener to sit second overnight.
Should the two team-mates maintain position through the eight stages left to run on Saturday and Sunday, then Citroen
could well secure the Manufacturers' title after Marcus Gronholm was forced to retire from the opening leg when his Peugeot 307 WRC stopped on the run back to Ajaccio after SS4 with transmission problems.
Gronholm had looked set to the end the day in fourth place behind the Ford Focus of Toni Gardemeister as the two Finns tried to keep in touch with the Citroen
duo, but while Gardemeister will start leg two within a minute of Loeb, Gronholm has plummeted down the order to 17th – leaving him with work to do to give Peugeot any chance of keeping the title battle alive going into Rallye Catalunya next weekend.
Gronholms retirement moved Petter Solberg
and Stephane Sarrazin up to fourth and fifth after a solid opening day for the Subaru pair with Daniel Sola producing an impressive display in his privateer Focus WRC to hold sixth place overnight – nearly a minute clear of the second works car of Roman Kresta.
Also impressive on the opening leg was Frenchman Alex Bengue as the tarmac expert carried his Skoda Fabia into the points scoring positions well over a minute ahead of team leader Armin Schwarz who ends leg one in 13th place.
Unfortunately for Mitsubishi the day didn't go to plan, with all three drivers hitting problems over the course of the day and Gigi Galli emerging on top of the pile down in tenth place, with tarmac expert Gilles Panizzi down in 16th after suffering from a broken shock absorber and fading brakes.
Nicolas Bernardi on his debut for the Peugeot WRC team ended leg one in 14th place, but with Gronholm's problems the team ended leg one in a disappointing position.
Daniel Sordo meanwhile leads the way in the Junior World Rally Championship standings after producing a display almost as dominant as that of Loeb. Sordo ends leg one just under 30secs clear of team-mate Kris Meeke with Mirco Baldacci over a minute further back. Kosti Katajamaki in fourth place is well over three minutes off the front running pace.