Loeb Takes Early Lead in NZ

Reigning World Champion Sebastien Loeb snatched the overall lead halfway through the first leg of the New Zealand Rally on Friday

Loeb Takes Early Lead in NZ

The Frenchman just held off former World Champion Marcus Gronholm at the completion of the first four of Friday's eight stages north of Auckland.

Current championship leader Petter Solberg of Norway was third overall, just eight-tenths of a second behind Loeb, after winning the opening stage in his Subaru despite having to go out first on the gravel roads.

"It's going much better than anticipated. I'm over the moon with how it's going," Solberg said.

"You have to drive very precisely on the loose gravel, I've made a couple of mistakes ... but overall, I've got no worries."

Solberg's teammate Chris Atkinson scored his first ever stage win when he topped the times in the second stage.

The Australian also finished second in the fourth stage to be sixth overall.

"The stage win was nice, but we weren't planning it and don't want to get carried away," Atkinson said.

"We're just going to carry on running at this pace and try and understand more about the conditions."

Gronholm won the second and fourth stages in his Peugeot to climb into second place overall while the ultra-consistent Loeb, who won the season-opening rally in Monaco, finished second in each of the first three stages then third in the fourth stage to grab a narrow lead.

Solberg, who won the New Zealand rally last year and is leading this year's championship after winning the previous two rounds in Sweden and Mexico, was leading after the first three stages but slipped back to third after placing fifth on the fourth stage.

The three-day New Zealand rally is the fourth round of the 16-rally season. The 20-stage event covers a total distance of 1128 kilometres.

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Loeb Leads After Leg One in NZ

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