Runaway championship leader, Sebastien Loeb dominated the opening day of the Rallye Deutschland, the ninth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, which was dogged by rain.
Loeb was quickest through five of the days' eight stages to end the first leg more than 40 seconds up on his Kronos Citroen team-mate, Daniel Sordo, who lies second. Loeb began the event by immediately setting down the marker in SS1 and he then proceeded to build a comfortable lead to head into the mid-day service around 20 seconds ahead.
In the repeat loop in the afternoon he once again set the pace to double his advantage going into the overnight halt. Loeb now looks poised to win in Germany for the fifth year in succession and get the second half of the season off to a perfect start.
Sordo meanwhile has been equally as impressive in the second Xsara, given his relative lack of experience in a WRC car. The fact he is now gunning for manufacturers' points as well as drivers' points doesn't seem to have phased him in the slightest and the switch to a 2006-spec car with passive differentials has seemingly made little difference either.
The Spaniard was the only driver, other than Loeb, who managed to win a stage on the opening day and he did so on three occasions, taking the win in SS2, SS4 and SS6. As such Kronos completed a clean sweep and currently are on course to take the maximum manufacturers' points possible.
Toni Gardemeister is next up in third to give Citroen a potential 1-2-3 – his car though is being run by Astra and therefore doesn't have the same level of 'factory' support as that enjoyed by Kronos. Gardemeister though has gone well and given the fact this is only his second outing with the car and his first on asphalt people should definitely take note. He took third this afternoon and finished the day around 6 seconds up on BP Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm.
Gronholm had a difficult day and admitted that he was struggling with the car in the wet. Rain affected most of the stages and while when it was relatively dry he was up there with Loeb and Sordo, in the wet he fell back. His team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen also struggled, although as the day went on his times improved and he finished the day with the second best time in SS8 and moved up to seventh overall.
Petter Solberg and Manfred Stohl lie fifth and sixth respectively, sandwiched between the two works Ford's. Solberg was seemingly unaffected by his shakedown crash and set several good times, although the Impreza was no match for the Citroen Xsaras. 'Hollywood' finished the leg more than 2 minutes off the lead, but less than 20 seconds off third and the final podium place. Stohl though is not that far behind, just 6.3 seconds adrift in his OMV Peugeot 307.
Further-down the order, Andreas Aigner put in what was without a doubt the best performance he has managed this season in the WRC. The Austrian is currently in eighth and has been in a points' paying position for most of the day in his Red Bull Skoda Fabia WRC.