Loeb Takes Commanding Lead

Citroen's championship leader Sebastien Loeb left his rivals trailing in the first leg of the Rally of Turkey on Friday with six wins from seven stages

Loeb Takes Commanding Lead

The Frenchman, winner of four of the season's six rallies, led Mitsubishi's Italian Gianluigi Galli by one minute 6.9 seconds after a commanding day in the southern Anatolian mountains.

"There's a lot of mud on the road but I'm running first... and I think we are cutting through it quite well," said the champion.

Galli was quickest in the fourth stage, Mitsubishi's first stage win since the 2001 Safari Rally, and briefly led a world championship event for the first time before he was slowed by overheating brakes.

Loeb hit back immediately, romping through the next stage to forge 22 seconds clear.

Finland's former champion Marcus Gronholm, in a Peugeot, was in third place and just 3.6 seconds behind Galli with only a short super-special stage remaining to close out Friday's opening leg.

Norwegian hope Petter Solberg was fourth for Subaru.

"I tried my best but it's been difficult", said Solberg. "We came here expecting drier and warmer conditions and our tyres are a little too hard for these conditions. We're struggling with traction."

Loeb, winner in Turkey last year, leads the championship with 45 points. Solberg and Estonian Markko Martin, for Peugeot, both have 34.

Sainz Comfortable

Spaniard Carlos Sainz, winner of more world championship rallies than any other driver, was running fifth in his one-off return from retirement as a replacement at Citroen for crash-prone Belgian Francois Duval.

The twice world champion, winner in Turkey two years ago, was slowed by three punctures in his first rally for seven months.

"It's slightly strange being back, but I'm getting used to it and beginning to feel comfortable in the car," he told the official rally website. "My goal is not to take risks.

"I'm here to take as many points as possible for Citroen and that's clearly on my mind."

Australian Chris Atkinson retired from the leg after damaging the fuel tank of his Subaru when he ran wide on a right-hand corner and hit rocks 500 metres from the finish of the day's second stage.

The incident also hit the car's left rear wheel and suspension, Atkinson returning to the service area on three wheels with co-driver Glenn MacNeall hanging out of the window as a counter-balance.

Mitsubishi's Harri Rovanpera went out after damaging his rear suspension on a rock.

The rally, based around the village of Kemer near the resort of Antalya on the southern Mediterranean coast, started with stage two on Friday after Thursday's scheduled sprint opener was cancelled by organisers.

Leg 1 Classification:

Pos Driver Car Time  1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 1h54:07.200 2. Gianluigi Galli Mitsubishi + 1:09.6 3. Marcus Gronholm Peugeot + 1:13.2 4. Petter Solberg Subaru + 1:30.6 5. Carlos Sainz Citroen + 1:53.1 6. Toni Gardemeister Ford + 3:10.1 7. Markko Martin Peugeot + 3:45.1 8. Henning Solberg Ford + 4:13.6 9. Roman Kresta Ford + 4:30.0 10. Antony Warmbold Ford + 6:14.5 
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Loeb Takes Charge in Turkey
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