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France - day 1: Loeb blitzes pack - again

Duval echoed those sentiments: "We are third for the moment and that's a good result, even though I hoped to be closer to Sebastien this evening."

Further down the order Petter Solberg heads an exciting squabble for fourth, 1.2 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala, who is sandwiched between Hollywood's Subaru Impreza and the sister car of Chris Atkinson. Atkinson is just 2.7 seconds further back.

Petter slipped behind Jari-Matti and Atkinson in SS4 this afternoon, but just like at the end of the opening loop, he moved back up into P4 in the 7.42 kilometre Arbellara-Aullene test.

"I'm very satisfied," said Petter, "We've changed the settings and it's all very positive."

"Everything is okay," added Jari. "It's a good fight with Chris and Petter. I think that's going to carry on throughout the weekend."

Suzuki's Toni Gardemeister and Ramsport Ford runner Andreas Mikkelsen round out the provisional points' scorers' in seventh and eighth - although neither had a particularly easy day.

Gardemeister is still not 100 per cent after suffering from a fever earlier this week and he said that while the SX4 WRC felt okay, the times were still pretty 's**t'.

Mikkelsen would have been comfortably in front of the Finn, but for a mistake by his co-driver en-route to SS1. The youngster started the test 8 minutes late as a result and subsequently picked up a 1 minute 20 second penalty.

"It was tricky to start off with," Mikkeslen reflected, "but things got better as the day went on. I'm really looking forward to leg two now."

Of the rest Subaru 'third' driver Brice Tirabassi is right on the tail of Gardemeister and Mikkelsen, only 2.9 seconds off the latter, while Urmo Aava, Conrad Rautenbach and Per-Gunnar Andersson are also split by only a handful of seconds in tenth, eleventh and twelfth.

Mads Ostberg, Matthew Wilson and Khalid Al-Qassimi complete the top 15, followed by Brit's Barry Clark and Gareth Jones.

Henning Solberg was running in that group until a puncture in the final stage cost him over 4 minutes and dropped him back. He finishes the day outside the top 20.

"I lost time with puncture. When we stopped to change a wheel, the car fell off the jack," Henning recalled.



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