Loeb Extends Lead to Half a Minute

Sebastien Loeb returned to business as usual in the Rally Argentina, edging away from rival Petter Solberg on Leg One's final stages to hold a strong lead of half a minute overnight

Loeb Extends Lead to Half a Minute

Loeb extended the 8.3-second lead he held at lunch over Solberg to more than 30 seconds and is already looking the favourite to take his sixth WRC victory in a row.

Loeb took a further three stage victories in the afternoon's loop, impressively winning SS9, the 15.5 km stage of Villa Giardino, by more than seven seconds from Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm.

Solberg is now losing touch with Loeb and instead is embroiled in a battle to hold onto second from Gronholm.

Gronholm has closed the gap to Solberg from 21.9 seconds at lunch to 13.3 seconds at the end of the leg and was faster than the Subaru driver on all of the afternoon's four stages. Gronholm also took an outright stage victory on SS7, pipping Loeb by 3.9 seconds.

The battle for fourth position remains tight. Happening more than two minutes down the road from Loeb, Ford's Toni Gardemeister continues to hold the position from Mitsubishi's Harri Rovanpera and Peugeot's Markko Martin.

Rovanpera overhauled Martin on SS7 and has continued to gain on Gardemeister. The Ford driver now holds an 8.1 second advantage over his Finish countryman, with Martin slightly further back, 23.6 seconds behind.

Rovanpera would be higher than fifth if it wasn't for a spin on SS4, which cost him more than 39 seconds on the stage to winner Loeb.

Citroen returnee Francois Duval continued to make progress, making up two places on his lunchtime position to finish Leg One in seventh.

Duval appears to be getting back to grips with the Xsara after his two event enforced rest, and recorded the second fastest time on the final stage of the day. The Belgian was only 4.0 seconds off teammate Loeb on the 10.94km stage of Valle Hermoso.

Duval will have to fight off the challenge of privateer Manfred Stohl however. Stohl recorded some consistent stage times and is only 5.5 seconds off the more heavily backed Citroen driver.

Mitsubishi's Gig Galli was up to fourth position this morning before transmission problems and broken suspension put him out on SS5. The Italian could restart the rally tomorrow under superrally regulations, but it is a bitter blow to the Japanese team, who had started the event so strongly.

Skoda's WRC woes continued after Janni Paasonen retired from 13th after taking a wheel off his Fabia on SS4. Teammate Armin Schwarz is in 15th position.

Top 20 at the end of Leg One:

Pos  Driver        Make          Time
 1.  Loeb          Citroen       1:54:40.6
 2.  Solberg       Subaru        +    31.3
 3.  Gronholm      Peugeot       +    44.6
 4.  Gardemeister  Ford          +  2:00.1
 5.  Rovanpera     Mitsubishi    +  2:08.2
 6.  Martin        Peugeot       +  2:31.8
 7.  Duval         Citroen       +  3:34.9
 8.  Stohl         Citroen       +  3:40.4
 9.  Atkinson      Subaru        +  4:10.8
10.  Pons          Citroen       +  5:08.3
11.  Kresta        Ford          +  5:13.2
12.  Warmbold      Ford          +  5:38.9
13.  Ligato        Peugeot       +  8:51.4
14.  Perez         Ford          +  9:36.2
15.  Al-Attiyah    Subaru        + 11:49.6
16.  Medeghini     Mitsubishi    + 14:06.8
17.  Trivino       Peugeot       + 14:17.6
18.  Carlsson      Peugeot       + 14:18.2
19.  Higgins       Subaru        + 14:48.1
20.  Schwarz       Skoda         + 17:27.8
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