Citroen team leader Sebastien Loeb has taken control in front of his home fans following the opening three stages this morning, which kicked off the 52nd Rallye de France-Tour de Corse.

Just like in Spain last weekend, Loeb was unstoppable in his C4 WRC car and he completed the opening stage, the 15.92 kilometre run through Acqua Doria-Serra di Ferro, 4 seconds up on Mikko Hirvonen, who was 'best of the rest'.

The Frenchman then increased his lead to 7.2 seconds in SS2 - when he again set the pace, 2.7 seconds up on Dani Sordo, before doubling it in SS3, to return to the mid-day halt with a 14.4 second cushion.

"I'm surprised by the lack of grip. I expected more and that was not the case. Despite that, everything is going fine for us," said Loeb.

It was not all good for Citroen however, as Dani Sordo was a surprise casualty in Arbellara-Aullene 1, when he hit a bank near the start of the 27.42 kilometre stage and retired. It is not yet known if the Spaniard will be able to rejoin on Saturday under the SupeRally.

Sordo's exit bumped Hirvonen back up into second spot, 2.2 seconds ahead of his BP Ford Abu Dhabi team-mate, Francois Duval.

"I'm feeling fine in the car, but Sebastien is pushing really hard. For the time being I cannot go any quicker," said Mikko post-SS2.

Petter Solberg is fourth for Subaru, albeit already 20 seconds off the two Fords and over 30 seconds off P1. The Norwegian jumped up from P7 to fourth in SS3, despite a 'big moment'.

"That wasn't so bad! SS3 was a long and quite fast stage but we had a massive moment at the start - it was unbelievable," Solberg confirmed. "The thing is that the surface changes all the time and it makes judging the grip very tricky. We're not being careful. We are pushing all the time."

Further down the order Jari-Matti Latvala is fifth in his Stobart Ford Focus, just 0.1 seconds off 'Hollywood' - and 2.2 seconds up on Chris Atkinson in the other Impreza WRC2008 nominated to score manufacturers' points for the SWRT.

"On the first stage we had a really close call and just made it round a tight corner, it reminds you how tricky this rally is and you need to keep full concentration the whole time," Latvala noted.

"The second stage felt really good but on stage 3 we were delayed at the start and I took it carefully because the car was understeering as the tyres had gone cold and I saw Sordo went off and slowed down and it took me a while to find my rhythm again. I'm much happier now than this time last week."

Suzuki duo Toni Gardemeister and Per-Gunnar Andersson round out on provisional points' scorers in seventh and eighth, but the former is already a minute behind the battle for fourth and not at all happy with the pace of his SX4 WRC.

"It felt very good but the time in SS1 was s**t," said Gardemeister. "SS2 was an interesting stage but I found it hard to go any quicker on it. The car is just not fast enough."

Of the rest Brice Tirabassi and Conrad Rautenbach are ninth and tenth, followed by Mads Ostberg, Henning Solberg, Matt Wilson, Andreas Mikkelsen and Urmo Aava.

Wilson had been eighth until he went off the road in SS3 and hit some trees, losing around 40 seconds. He was helped back onto the stage by some spectators: "This morning started off well for us and the first stage felt great the car was really positive and the tyres were working well," reflected the Brit. "Then our notes weren't working quite perfectly on stage 2 and we dropped some time on the opening part of the stage.

"Stage 3 was very difficult and unfortunately we got caught out braking for a right hand corner that tightens and hit a small tree. It didn't damage the car much but it did slow us down for the remainder of the stage."

Mikkelsen and Aava also had bad starts and both picked up big time penalties. Mikkelsen was eight minutes late starting SS1 after his co-driver made a mistake, while Aava was six minutes late to SS2 after breaking a shock absorber in a pothole.

In the Junior World Rally Championship category, Martin Prokop has led from the off in his Citroen C2 S1600. The Czech heads 'wild card' runner Pierre Campana by 9.1 seconds while Alessandro Bettega is third.

Sebastien Ogier is fourth after a cautious start and his main focus is to ensure he gets to the end and secures the 2008 J-WRC title. His only rival for the Junior crown is Aaron Burkart and the German finished the loop in seventh, behind Arnaud Augoyard and Florian Niegel.

"I'm maybe driving at 20 per cent," Ogier admitted. "It's not feeling very good and I have a bad rhythm. We're in a rally of our own against Burkart."

The action now resumes at 14.37 hours local time, when all three of this morning's stages will be repeated to conclude the opening leg.

More to follow then...



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