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WRC NEWS 

Latvala leads, Loeb rolls in Sweden

Jari-Matti Latvala, Ford, Swedish RallyJari-Matti Latvala has taken the lead of the Swedish Rally on the first morning, while Sebastien Loeb has lost three minutes after crashing in SS4.

The world champion was running third behind Ford pair Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen when he went off the road and rolled in the Mangen stage.

Loeb was able to rejoin and reach the stage finish, before heading for the midday remote service for repairs.

"I just touched the snow bank and it threw the car really sideways," Loeb told reporters at the end of the stage. "It dug in and rolled once. We have no clutch now, and it's not so good. But we will try to reach the service."

The Citroen driver had already lost time running on the soft slush that greeted the drivers who tackled the stages first, and was 12 seconds behind Latvala prior to his roll.

With the day one running order set by championship positions, Latvala's disastrous Monte Carlo Rally has worked to his advantage. The Finn is running 11th on the road, and has benefited as the ten cars ahead cleared a path through the slush.

"It's going really well," said Latvala, who won all three of this morning's stages. "I have a very good starting position - it's quite clean for me. We are getting an advantage in the morning, so we have to use it. This afternoon it will be harder."

Hirvonen is currently 23 seconds behind Latvala, but had initially been more focused on his position relative to title rival Loeb.

"The stages are really, really soft and the guys behind are going to be a lot faster, there's no doubt. As long as I can keep Sebastien behind, I'm happy," said Hirvonen prior to Loeb's accident.

Ford now hold the top four places on the rally, with Stobart Ford duo Henning Solberg and Gigi Galli running third and fourth behind the two works cars.

"Everything is working well and I'm doing my best," Solberg said. "This car is perfect for me now."

Petter Solberg led the rally following last night's superspecial, but has now fallen back to fifth. He is already the only works Subaru in contention for points, as his teammate Chris Atkinson lost 15 minutes when he went off the road in SS3.

"We had a spin, but I wasn't entirely sure why," said Atkinson. "We'll have to look at some data. I was actually driving quite cautiously, not pushing too hard, and I just lost it. My mistake, I guess, but we're going to have to look at it."

Privateer Mads Ostberg was briefly the best-placed Subaru this morning. The Norweigan set the third-fastest time in SS2 to put himself fourth overall, only to lose half a minute with a spin in the next stage.

Suzuki's Toni Gardemeister is now sixth, having moved up a position when his teammate PG Andersson stopped in the Mangen stage.

Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson, the delayed Ostberg and Ramsport Ford driver Andreas Mikkelsen hold seventh to ninth positions, all three covered by just six seconds.

Further back, the high attrition rate in the WRC field has elevated Ford number three Khalid Al Qassimi into the top ten on his first ever day of rallying on snow.

Leading positions after SS4:

Pos  Driver        Car     Time
 1.  Latvala       Ford    31:47.8
 2.  Hirvonen      Ford    +  23.0
 3.  H Solberg     Ford    +  32.3
 4.  Galli         Ford    +  48.3
 5.  P Solberg     Subaru  +1:01.7
 6.  Gardemeister  Suzuki  +1:23.3
 7.  Wilson        Ford    +1:31.7
 8.  Ostberg       Subaru  +1:35.8
 9.  Mikkelsen     Ford    +1:37.4
10.  Al Qassimi    Ford    +2:54.0

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