Loeb in charge in Corsica

Sebastien Loeb has left his rivals in his wake on the opening leg of the Rallye de France in Corsica after ending the day more than 40 seconds clear of his nearest challenger

Loeb in charge in Corsica

The newly crowned champion was fastest on all four stages of the day to end Leg One an impressive 41.3 seconds clear of Citroen teammate Francois Duval.

Loeb's pace at the front, which proved that his second title success had not resulted in him taking it easy, was relentless. His winning margins in the four stages were 13.1 seconds, 12.1 seconds, 4.8 seconds and 7.3 seconds.

Duval was second fastest on three of the day's four stages on a crucial weekend for Citroen in their manufacturers' championship battle. His performance left him 16 seconds ahead of Toni Gardemeister in the Ford.

Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm ended the day fourth overall in the standings, six seconds behind Gardemeister and just more than three seconds ahead of Subaru's Petter Solberg, but was believed to have hit trouble on the road section after Stage Four with transmission problems.

It is unclear at the moment whether he will make it back to the service area without assistance. If not, it could result in him being handed a five-minute penalty if he wants to rejoin the event on Saturday - which would all-but hand rivals Citroen the manufacturers' crown.

Solberg had no such problems as he declared himself much happier with the performance of his car on the asphalt surface than he had been on the Rallye Deutschland in August.

"Compared to our pace in Germany we're much better," said the Norwegian. "The car and tyres are working very well and we're much quicker on these stages now than we were last year."

Asphalt specialist Stephane Sarrazin has put in one of his most competitive showings to take fifth position overnight after being third fastest on Stage Four. This has put the Frenchman in with a chance of bettering his eighth placed finish from Germany earlier in the season.

Standings after Leg One:

Pos Driver Make Time 1. Loeb Citroen 1:14:20.3 2. Duval Citroen + 41.3 3. Gardemeister Ford + 57.7 4. Gronholm Peugeot + 1:03.2 5. Solberg Subaru + 1:07.0 6. Sarrazin Subaru + 1:19.4 7. Sola Ford + 1:24.5 8. Kresta Ford + 2:18.3 9. Bengue Skoda + 2:20.5 10. Pons Citroen + 2:41.6 11. Galli Mitsubishi + 2:48.1 12. Warmbold Ford + 3:10.4 13. Revenuers Mitsubishi + 3:23.6 14. Schwarz Skoda + 3:31.6 15. Bernardi Peugeot + 3:59.3 16. Kopecky Skoda + 4:59.4 17. Panizzi Mitsubishi + 5:35.1 18. Sordo Citroen + 5:42.7 19. Vouilloz Skoda + 5:59.8 20. Meeke Citroen + 6:09.5 All Timing Unofficial 
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Loeb off to quick start in France
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