BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Francois Duval edged out Sebastien Loeb to set the pace on Thursday in the Rallye de France-Tour de Corse shakedown.

Duval completed the 6.10 kilometre stage from Capo di Feno to Saint Antoine in 3 minutes 44.9 seconds, 0.2 seconds up on pre-event favourite and local hero, Sebastien Loeb.

"My Ford Focus RS WRC was sliding a lot in Spain, but we still managed to go quite quickly. Here, on what is a much more abrasive surface, I hope to raise my game and see if we stand any chance of winning," said the Belgian. "The weather seems a bit uncertain, but I think that tricky conditions could work in our favour."

Loeb meanwhile was largely happy with his final preparations for the thirteenth round in the World Rally Championship: "Everything went well with the exception of one thing - the steering was slightly out. But that is easily fixed," he added.

"This morning's shakedown was just to check that all the systems were working properly, as there is not a lot of meaningful information we can learn for the rally by running on soft tyres."

Dani Sordo was next up, third in the other 'works' Citroen C4 WRC, followed by Mikko Hirvonen and Urmo Aava.

"It was good to get back into the rhythm of Corsica again," said Dani. "My feeling with the car is actually better than it was in Catalunya as you notice the grip straight away, which is much more than we had in Spain. We also ran on soft tyres this morning and tried a few different things with the set-up."

"On paper, it's hard to expect to beat Sebastien Loeb here," Mikko admitted. "But we can't just settle for finishing behind the Citroens. It took me a little while to get up to speed in Spain but I got there in the end.

"The abrasive surface here in Corsica should be better suited to our car than the asphalt in Catalunya. We need to be quick straight out of the box here, in order to see if we can fight for victory."

Further down the order Ford privateer Andreas Mikkelsen was sixth, with the Subaru's of Petter Solberg and Brice Tirabassi seventh and eighth.

"After the Rally Catalunya that was something of a test session for us," Petter explained. "We worked on refining the set-up for the roads of Corsica. Following the shakedown, I wouldn't say that it was perfect yet. We need to wait for the first few stages to see how much benefit we take from our work so far."

Of the rest, Matt Wilson and Henning Solberg rounded out the top ten, with Chris Atkinson eleventh, Jari-Matti Latvala twelfth and Toni Gardemeister and Conrad Rautenbach joint 13th.

"We worked on the ride height and differential in order to try and make the handling of our SX4 more consistent," Gardemeister noted. "Last year, we took part in the recce but not the actual rally so we're lacking a bit of experience here.

"Still, we're starting this event with the aim of developing the car rather than putting in a stunning performance as we know we are not sufficiently competitive with the way things stand at the moment."

The Rallye de France-Tour de Corse now continues later on today with the ceremonial start in Ajaccio at 18.00 hours. The action then begins proper on Friday with six stages on the bill, totalling around 120 competitive kilometres. SS1, the 15.92 kilometre run through Acqua Doria-Serra di Ferro, begins at 09.18 hours [all times local].

Leading shakedown times:

1. Francois DuvalBP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 08 3mins 44.9secs M
2. Sebastien LoebCitroen Total WRT C4 WRC 3mins 45.1secs M
3. Daniel SordoCitroen Total WRT C4 WRC3mins 45.6secs M
4. Mikko HirvonenBP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 08 3mins 46.5secs M
5. Urmo AavaPH Sport-Citroen C4 WRC3mins 47.2secs A8
6. Andreas MikkelsenRamsport Ford Focus WRC 073mins 47.6secs A8
7. Petter SolbergSubaru WRT Impreza WRC 20083mins 48.3secs M
8. Brice TirabassiSubaru WRT Impreza WRC 20083mins 49.6secs A8
9. Matthew WilsonStobart VK Ford Focus WRC 073mins 49.8secs MT
10. Henning SolbergStobart VK Ford Focus WRC 073mins 49.9secs A8
11. Chris AtkinsonSubaru WRT Impreza WRC 20083mins 50.0secs M
12. Jari-Matti LatvalaStobart VK Ford Focus WRC 073mins 50.3secs MT
13. Toni GardemeisterSuzuki WRT SX4 WRC3mins 53.9secs M
= Conrad RautenbachPH Sport-Citroen C4 WRC3mins 53.9secs A8
15. P-G AnderssonSuzuki WRT SX4 WRC3mins 54.8secs M

all times unofficial



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