Loeb Takes Early Lead

Sebastien Loeb proved he will not back off and protect his substantial championship lead by finishing top of the leaderboard after the first three stages of the Wales Rally GB

Loeb Takes Early Lead

The Frenchman, who could secure his second consecutive WRC crown this weekend should he win and other results go his way, lead Petter Solberg by 10.3 seconds by the first service.

Loeb was mighty through the 27.81-km Rheola stage, taking the stage victory and beating Solberg by 9.5 seconds to pull out his lead before this afternoon's second loop of stages.

The chance of Loeb securing the title this weekend improved with problems befalling main title rival Marcus Gronholm.

The Finn needs to finish higher than seventh to take the title battle to the Rally Japan next month, but after winning the opening stage by 4.5 seconds, disaster struck on SS2 and he lost nearly a minute and twenty seconds with a brake fluid leak. He lost a further 18.1 seconds to Loeb on SS3 and now lies back in 17th.

Behind Solberg in second is Mitsubishi's Harri Rovanpera, having one of his best runs of the season. Rovanpera won SS2, the 18.56-km run through Trawscoed and is 15.6 seconds behind Solberg.

Francois Duval is currently fourth, but is already 48.8 seconds behind Citroen teammate Loeb. His main focus will be on securing a podium finish, and crawling back the 22.9 seconds to Rovanpera.

Subaru's  Chris Atkinson leads a close, three-car battle for fifth. The Australian, driving in his first Wales Rally GB, is only 3.6 seconds ahead of Peugeot's Markko Martin, and 5.7 seconds ahead of the leading Ford of Toni Gardemeister.

Colin McRae, driving in his first WRC event for nearly two years, made a steady start with his Skoda and ended the morning's stages in ninth. The Scottish driver's best performance of the morning came on SS3, when he was sixth quickest through the stage.

McRae's teammate Armin Schwarz was slow through the opening stage after his intercom failed, and finished one minute 26.5 seconds behind Gronholm. Schwarz then suffered a front-left puncture towards the end of SS3 and lies in 21st.

Standings after SS3:

Pos  Driver        Make        Time

1.   Loeb          Citroen     39:31.5
2.   Solberg       Subaru      + 10.3
3.   Rovanpera     Mitsubishi  + 25.9
4.   Duval         Cicerone    + 48.8
5.   Atkinson      Subaru      + 57.9
6.   Martin        Peugeot     + 1:01.5
7.   Gardemeister  Ford        + 1:03.6
8.   Solberg       Ford        + 1:05.1
9.   McRae         Skoda       + 1:12.5
10.  Latvala       Ford        + 1:17.3
11.  Kresta        Ford        + 1:17.5
12.  Stohl         Citroen     + 1:18.4
13.  Galli         Mitsubishi  + 1:19.8
14.  Meeke         Subaru      + 1:20.7
15.  Warmbold      Ford        + 1:21.1
16.  Sarrazin      Subaru      + 1:28.8
17.  Gronholm      Peugeot     + 1:29.8
18.  Higgins       Ford        + 1:37.8
19.  Pons          Citroen     + 1:40.1
20.  Bernardi      Peugeot     + 2:58.2

All Timing Unofficial

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