Citroen's Sebastien Loeb was fastest this morning in the qualifying stage for Rally de Espana, the final round in the 2012 World Rally Championship.

Loeb completed the 2.94 kilometre Emprius de Salou test in 2 minutes 6.100 seconds, which put him 0.1 seconds up on Evgeny Novikov's DMACK tyres-shod Ford Fiesta RS WRC car. Loeb will now get first choice of start position for Friday's opening day, which is run mostly on gravel.

Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile was third in the sister works Citroen DS3 WRC car, 0.2 seconds further back, while the Fords of Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg came in fourth and fifth respectively.

"I thought I was setting a good time, but in the end, as always, Loeb was the fastest!" Hirvonen lamented.

"I made a mistake and the back tyre slid out," Latvala conceded, "but it was nothing important."

"I had a problem in a corner [too]," Solberg added, "as I could not use first gear."

Behind, Thierry Neuville rounded out the top six in his Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC, followed by local star, Dani Sordo, Ott Tanak, Mads Ostberg and Martin Prokop in positions 7 through to 10.

"I made a couple of mistakes, but with such a short stage that meant I lost quite a lot of time," Sordo said.

Drivers will now select their start positions in a few hours time. Rally de Espana then gets underway 'proper' on Friday, with SS1, the 7 km Gandesa 1 test, due to start at 07.45 hours local time (06.45 hours UK time).

Rally de Espana: Qualifying stage:

1. Sebastien LoebCitroen Total WRT DS3 WRC2m 06.100s M
2. Evgeny NovikovFord Fiesta RS WRC+0.100s
3. Mikko HirvonenCitroen Total WRT DS3 WRC+0.300s M
4. Jari-Matti LatvalaFord WRT Fiesta RS WRC+0.500s M
5. Petter SolbergFord WRT Fiesta RS WRC+0.800s M
6. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +1.300s
7. Dani SordoProdrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC +1.400s
8. Ott TanakM-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC+1.500s M
9. Mads OstbergAdapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC+1.600s M
10. Martin ProkopCzech Ford National Team Fiesta RS WRC +3.400s
11. Han WeijsQatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC+3.500s M
12. Jarkko NikaraProdrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC +4.200s
13. Chris AtkinsonWRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +4.500s
14. Daniel OliveiraBrazil WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC+5.100s M
15. Abdulaziz AlkuwariSeashore Qatar WRT MINI John Cooper Works WRC+9.500s
16. John PowellM-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC+12.300s M
17. Paulo Nobre WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +15.000s

all times unofficial



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