Loeb tops Swedish shakedown

Sebastien Loeb has made the perfect start to the new season, posting the fastest time at the pre-Rally Sweden shakedown stage

Loeb tops Swedish shakedown

The reigning World Rally champion was more than a second faster than anybody through the 2.5-mile stage, with his Citroen team-mate Dani Sordo setting the second quickest time.

Loeb's fastest time came on his fourth and final run at the stage. He was 1.2 seconds faster than Sordo, with top Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala third quickest, a further second down on Sordo.

"Shakedown was okay, no problem," said Loeb. "Other drivers have done some rallies since the last round of last year's world championship, but I haven't. I did two days of testing and shakedown this morning, this has to be enough. I have to get in the car and be on the pace straight away."

Loeb admitted the return of five-time Rally Sweden winner Marcus Gronholm was a concern for him.

"I think it can be a big battle for the victory," Loeb added. "Mikko [Hirvonen] is going to be competitive and Marcus is coming back and Petter [Solberg] has the same car as we have. There are a few Nordic drivers - it won't be so easy for me."

Gronholm was fifth fastest at shakedown, just two tenths behind fourth-placed man Hirvonen.

"The time was okay," said Gronholm. "I'm happy with that. Now we start the rally and now we will see what happens. A podium would be nice, but we have to see when we are in the stages tomorrow. I have been a long time away from the rally. Lately, I have done a lot more skiing than I have done driving."

Former Formula 1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen was 10th fastest, 5.9s off the pace-setting Loeb.

Reigning Junior World Rally champion Martin Prokop was fastest of the new Super 2000 WRC drivers. His Ford Fiesta S2000 was three tenths of a second up on P-G Andersson's Skoda Fabia S2000.

The rally proper commences with a ceremonial start in Karlstad this evening, before a superspecial run around the town's trotting track.

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