Citroen team leader Sebastien Loeb leads the Rally of Turkey at the end of day one, but only after his main rivals purposely eased off in the final test.

Loeb, who was quickest in the super special on Thursday night, was up against it this morning and running first on the road - a 'privilege' that goes to the championship leader - he lost time as he had to sweep away the loose gravel. Consequently he finished the opening loop in fifth, having been tenth fastest in Perge 1, sixth in Myra 1 and fourth in Kumluca 1.

On the repeat run through the Frenchman was less disadvantaged and although he was only sixth quickest in SS5, he was third and first fastest in the two subsequent stages to haul himself up to third.

Related Articles

In the final loop he initially dropped back to fourth, but with Ford's Mikko Hirvonen, Jari-Matti Latvala and Gigi Galli all easing off in Phaselis 1 - SS9, he found himself handed P1, something that means he will again have to play the road sweeper on day two.

"I would have done exactly the same thing if I had been them," said Seb. "But it doesn't matter. Tomorrow's leg is shorter, so being first on the road should be less of a disadvantage.

"We won't have so much 'road-sweeping' to do. It promises to be very close, but we will do everything in our power to defend our lead!"

Henning Solberg meanwhile finished up second, just one second behind Loeb, after topping the times in the final stage. He had overheating problems on the first loop and dust issues in the afternoon, but was still pretty pleased.

"It's been a hard day as the stages have been tough and I have been in a battle for most of the day," he added. "We lost some time with our problem earlier and the dust getting into the car effected my concentration but it's been a fantastic finish to the day getting a fastest stage time."

Jari-Matti Latvala completes the top three and while he lost time with a puncture in SS2 and SS7, he was right up at the top of the leader-board for much of the day, setting the pace in SS3 and SS6. In the end he finished up 1.1 seconds off the lead having slowed at the end of SS9.

"The team strategy was to not be first in the order tomorrow," Jari explained. "It's not easy there in these conditions, I don't like it and I didn't want to be there. You need experience to perform that role well and I don't have that. The plan was to be in front of Mikko and I feel very satisfied tonight."

Gigi Galli and Mikko Hirvonen rounded out the five, the latter having led for most of the day until he slowed before the finish of SS9 and watched almost 20 seconds pass before completing the test.

"It's a risk to do this because we haven't won anything yet and there are only two stages for Loeb to clean tomorrow, but these are better circumstances for me than being first on the road," said Mikko.

"If I had been leading tomorrow, I don't think I would have been able to keep him behind me because my 14sec advantage wouldn't have been enough. The plan now is to attack hard and build a big enough lead to take into the final day. I'm sure Loeb will fight hard, but I feel confident."

Galli, who was the only driver to win more than two stages - topping the times in SS4, SS5 and SS8, also took the same approach in SS9 as his Ford colleagues.

"It's been a long day today with more stages than what we are normally used to," said Gigi. "We had a problem getting the jack into the car today and weren't able to change the tyres between some stages. The second pass over the stages was quite hard as we had to find a good compromise between preserving the tyres and keeping a good speed but I think we did a good job. It seems that we are now in a perfect position for tomorrow."

Further down the order, Petter Solberg is sixth in the new Impreza WRC2008, albeit almost 50 seconds off those battling for the win. The Norwegian set top-nine times in every test, his best - excluding the short Antalya super special - a fifth fastest effort in SS7.

"Sixth is good today, and I'm happy with our progress," said the Subaru #1. "We were just trying to take it a little bit carefully today, but it was so, so tough, you know. I know things can happen here, and I don't want to hit rocks or have any problems. We just need to take things step by step."

Britain's Matthew Wilson was next up in seventh and he had a great day in the third Stobart Ford entry, running in the points pretty much throughout despite a big impact in SS7, which bent the suspension.

"They have been really tough stages today and I have been feeling quite tired with my cold," said Matt. "But we still managed to finish off the day with a third placed time which is a great way to finish what has been an improved day of driving. I'm very happy with our start today."

Dani Sordo had to settle for eighth after losing around a minute in Kumluca 2, when he had a rear left puncture and picked up some suspension damage. The Spaniard fought back in SS8 and SS9 though and cut the gap to Wilson from 6.5 seconds to 0.9 seconds.

Of the rest Suzuki's Toni Gardemeister is ninth, despite injuring his shoulder in the middle loop, with Conrad Rautenbach tenth followed by Munchi's Ford's Federico Villagra, Per-Gunnar Andersson and Barry Clark.

"About five kilometres from the end of the stage [SS6] I was turning in a right-hand hairpin. I hit a rock and the steering wheel was ripped out of my hand; the impact dislocated my left shoulder," Gardemeister explained.

"The pain was incredible. The shoulder went back in after a couple of seconds. The doctor worked on my shoulder in service and it wasn't so bad in the last two stages. It was really good to come through the last stage with a good time."

In the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship category Andreas Aigner leads having taken top spot on the final loop. The Austrian, who has won the last two PWRC events and who currently leads the race for the Production crown, ended the day narrowly in front of Patrik Sandell's Peugeot 207 S2000.

Uwe Nittel is third in the class, followed by fellow Mitsubishi users Martin Prokop and Eyvind Brynildsen. Evgeniy Vertunov is the top Subaru in the PWRC, currently sixth overall, 8.2 seconds off P5.

In terms of retirements a number of drivers' had problems and went out, including most noticeably Citroen privateer Urmo Aava and Subaru number two driver, Chris Atkinson.

Aava went out in SS3 after damaging his cars suspension, while Atkinson retired after SS6 - again with suspension problems. Atkinson will re-start on Saturday under the SupeRally format.

"We weren't pushing too hard this morning, and things were looking good," Atkinson, who had been running ninth. "We would have been in the points by the end of the day. The plan was to make no mistakes and we did that, so it's a shame to be stopped by something that's out of our hands. We'll use tomorrow to do a little bit of testing and see how the car feels, and then see how quick we can push."

The action now continues on Saturday and day two revisits the same territory in the maze of roads that zig-zag through the Anatolian mountains. After restarting at 08.30 hours [local time], drivers face seven stages covering 137.66 kilometres before returning to Kemer for the final overnight halt. The last test is a second pass over the 2.60 kilometre super special stage at Antalya's Akdeniz University.