Day 1: Loeb leads

Newly-crowned world rally champion Sebastien Loeb ended the opening day of the Catalunya Rally on top - but only just. The Citroen star is just 2s ahead of Ford's Markko Martin after a day-long battle for the lead that also included Francois Duval in the second Focus

Day 1: Loeb leads

Having won the drivers and manufacturers' championships two weeks ago in Corsica, Loeb and his Citroen team have been able to race without fear of losing points and thus are giving the Fords (superfast on asphalt) a run for their money in Spain.

Nevertheless it's been close and in this afternoon's three stages the trio took a stage win apiece. Duval however has ruined his chances of a maiden win after knocking off a wheel in the final stage of the day, the 22km Gombren SS6, and taking himself out of the event.

That stage was topped by Rallye de France winner Martin, who not only closed to two seconds off the lead, but also ensured that he has a 25s cushion over third-placed Marcus Gronholm in the first of the works Peugeot 307s.

Retiring hero Carlos Sainz is fourth in the second Citroen, but he is already 46s behind his team-mate Loeb, and without trouble hitting those in front of him, already looks unlikely to win his final home event as a fully-fledged WRC driver.

Petter Solberg is a steady fifth in his Subaru Impreza. The Norweigen is not satisfied with his asphalt pace, and admits that his car, on Pirelli tyres, is not suited to the shiny smooth Spanish roads. Solberg ended the day 1m16s off the leader.

Duval, having taken three stage wins today, will be kicking himself. Of the two Ford drivers he was the one most likely to end the first leg of the rally with the overnight lead. The Belgian did make it to the end of the stage, but his wheel-destroying incident has caused too much damage, and he has been retired from the rally.

The remarkable Stephane Sarrazin is once again well among the ranks of factory drivers in his French, privately-run, Subaru. The Frenchman is seventh overall, less than 30s behind the leading factory Impreza.

Daniel Sola is now the top Mitsubishi driver in eighth, after his established asphalt-specialist team-mate Gilles Panizzi plummeted down the order having selected the wrong tyre compound after the lunchtime service.

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Day 1am: Fords catch Loeb

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