Francois Duval sprung a surprise on day one of the Rallye Deutschland on Friday, the tenth round in the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship, by grabbing the lead in the final test of the day.

Duval has been on the pace from the off and after setting the second best time in the shakedown on Thursday, 'best of the rest' after Sebastien Loeb, the Belgian was again the only one able to challenge the Frenchman on what is virtually Seb's 'home' event.

On the opening loop this morning, Loeb pulled away in his Citroen C4 WRC, winning two of the three tests to return to the mid-day service in Trier with a 5.8 second lead.

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Duval however was fastest in the final test this morning and when Loeb made a mistake with his tyre choice in the afternoon, gambling on it being wet, the Belgian was perfectly placed to capitalise in his OMV Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC.

On the first test after service, which was won by Ford's Mikko Hirvonen, Duval was second quickest cutting Seb's advantage back to 3 seconds. He then sliced it down to 1.7 seconds when he set the pace in SS5, the 23.04 kilometre-run through Grafschaft Veldenz.

Although Chris Atkinson took the win in SS6, second was enough, combined with the fact Seb was 'only' fifth fastest, to give Duval the lead.

Francois will now take an ever so slight, 1.3 second cushion into day two on Saturday - the longest leg of the event and the OMV Kronos Citroen man will be keen to maintain his strong run on his first outing with the Belgian-based operation, while also being mindful that if he puts it off the road he will go from 'hero to zero' very quickly.

Seb meanwhile was not too despondent to have lost the lead in SS6 and the fact he and Duval are already quite away in front of the rest of the pack will no doubt please the triple world champion.

His tyre choice in the afternoon though illustrates just how tough this event can be and with conditions likely to remain unsettled throughout the weekend it won't get any easier.

Marcus Gronholm completes the top three at this stage - albeit over 15 seconds off the battle for the lead. The Finn began the event badly and lost over 10 seconds on SS1 when he was only seventh fastest.

Although he made some changes and was happier in SS2, setting the second best time, just 0.9 seconds off the stage winner, he was unable to maintain that pace during the remainder of the day and was fourth quickest in SS3, SS4, SS5 and SS6.

Gronholm's BP Ford team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen also had a bad start in the sister Focus and finished the morning loop sixth overall, freely admitting that 'he was driving like a beginner'.

Despite suffering from the 'flu though he came back in the afternoon and thanks to one stage win and two third fastest times moved up to fourth position overall, to end the leg just 5.3 seconds off the sister Focus.

Further down the order, Toni Gardemeister completes the top five, having been re-united with Astra-PH-Sport and the Citroen Xsara WRC for Germany. The Finn set top eight times in every single test bar one, but never managed to break into the top five, much to his annoyance. He finished the leg more than 40 seconds or so off Mikko.

Skoda privateer, Jan Kopecky ended up sixth, while Subaru third driver, Xavier Pons and Stobart Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala round out the provisional points' scorers at this stage.

Pons had brake issues in the afternoon and complained about the cars handling in the morning.

Latvala's day wasn't without incident either and he damaged his front left wheel in SS2 and then had more problems on the repeat run through Grafschaft in the afternoon when he overshot a junction and had to reserve. He also hit a barrier in the final test and bent the suspension on his Focus.

Just outside the drivers' points' is Petter Solberg - the Norwegian lost time in the final two stages after hitting a rock at the start of SS5 and damaging the suspension on his Subaru Impreza WRC. That incident proved very costly and 'Hollywood' lost over a minute in SS5 and SS6, dropping from sixth to ninth.

Manfred Stohl rounds out the top ten in the second OMV Kronos-run Xsara. The Austrian struggled to find a good rhythm in the morning and then was slowed by brake issues on the repeat loop.

Of the rest, Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson was eleventh at the end of the first day, while BP Ford third driver, Khalid Al-Qassimi finished proceedings in 13th, one place behind Citroen's Dani Sordo.

Sordo had been running in third until a spin in SS4 dropped him behind Gronholm. He was then forced to stop in SS6, around 8 kilometres in, due to engine problems. It is not yet known if he will be able to re-start on Saturday under the SupeRally.

Henning Solberg and Andreas Mikkelsen were the other two big retirements. Henning went out in SS5 after damaging the front right suspension on his Ford, while Andreas crashed in SS2, and also damaged the front suspension on his Ramsport-run Ford. Like with Dani, it is not yet known if either of these two will be able to re-start.

Subaru's Chris Atkinson finished the day in 16th, having paid a big price for his error in SS2 when he went off the road. Although the Aussie was lucky and did not damage his Impreza, he beached the car and remained stranded for some time until a sufficient number of spectators arrived to help get him back on the road. He lost over 7 minutes as a result and has been playing catch up ever since.

Britain's Guy Wilks also had a tough day, after he had mechanical issues on the opening loop and he lost even more time than Atkinson. Guy finished the day more than 14 minutes off the top ten.

In the Junior Rally Championship category meanwhile, Martin Prokop has begun like he did in Finland by dominating. The Czech was quickest in every single test in his Citroen C2 S1600 and finished the day over a minute up on Urmo Aava.

Conrad Rautenbach completes the JRC top three, another minute further back, while Aaron Burkart and regining Junior champion, Patrik Sandell are fourth and fifth respectively split by less than 5 seconds.

The action now continues on Saturday with the longest and toughest leg of the event, featuring two visits to the daunting Baumholder military land.

After leaving Trier at 07.00 hours [local time], drivers face two identical loops of four stages split by a return to the city for a lunchtime service. Each loop contains two stages on flowing public road tests in Saarland after which a remote service in Konken precedes two tests on Baumholder. The tank training area contains a multitude of different surfaces, with sand and gravel on the roads making conditions slippery in the dry or the wet.

Competitors face eight stages covering 164.86km before returning to Trier for the overnight halt at 19.47 hours [local time].

More to follow then...