Reigning world champion, Sebastien Loeb has ended the opening leg of the Rally Argentina, the sixth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, in his customary position at the top of the leaderboard.
Loeb won four of the events opening ten stages and inherited the lead from early leader, Marcus Gronholm when the Finn was forced out with mechanical problems.
The Frenchman, who had a poor start to the event, spinning in SS3, something that dropped him down to seventh overall, put in a charge after that and pulled himself back up to second ahead of the mid-day service. He then went in front after Gronholm's Focus lost drive in SS8 and the Kronos Citroen ace will go into the second leg with a 19.8 second advantage.
Petter Solberg meanwhile is second, 'best of the rest' for Subaru and while it hasn't been an easy day for the Norwegian, compared to the last two asphalt events, he has been in a different league and critically right on the pace and in contention for the win. Indeed he probably would have been a lot closer to Loeb tonight, if he hadn't hit a gatepost in SS4, smashing the window on the co-driver's side of the car and if he hadn't had a puncture in SS5. A ten second penalty for arriving one minute late at the time-control for SS9 didn't help his bid much either!
Gigi Galli lies third on only his second event with the Bozian ran Peugeot 307. The Italian has shined on his gravel debut with the Pirelli backed car and is reportedly much more confident with it on this surface. A podium would be a great reward for him, especially as it would be his best WRC finish to date, after just missing out on third in Sweden back in February.
Further-down the order, Manfred Stohl heads OMV Peugeot Norway team-mate, Henning Solberg, the two separated by around 20 seconds. Stohl would have been higher up the order but he lost over 40 seconds in SS6 with a wheel problem. He ended the day though on a high by posting the quickest time in SS10. Henning meanwhile, on his debut in Argentina opted for a cautious approach this morning and continued to set some solid times this afternoon, although he did slip back behind Stohl.
Next up is Daniel Sordo, in the third Kronos Racing ran Citroen Xsara WRC. Although he wasn't happy with the car on the first loop, sixth is a good placing on what is only his second event with a WRC car on gravel.
Subaru's Chris Atkinson and Matthew Wilson round out the top eight, the latter currently poised to score his ever WRC drivers' point, assuming he can avoid any problems over the remaining two days. Wilson has been impressive and is 30 seconds or so up on his Stobart VK team-mate, Luis-Perez Companc, who also incidentally is the best of the local drivers, in ninth.
Gareth MacHale completes the top ten, in his privately entered Focus, while Frederico Villagra leads the Group N category in eleventh, one place ahead of Sebastian Beltran, who is over 2 minutes up on Nasser Al-Attiyah, his nearest rival for the Production Car WRC honours.