Sebastien Loeb leads after first three stages of Rally Deutschland

Sebastien Loeb holds his habitual lead in Rally Deutschland after the first three stages of the 2012 event

Sebastien Loeb leads after first three stages of Rally Deutschland

The World Rally champion has won in Germany eight times in his career, with his run only halted when a puncture let his then-Citroen team-mate Sebastien Ogier snatch victory in 2011.

Loeb was quickest on all three Friday morning stages, giving him an initial 13.1-second cushion over Ford's Petter Solberg.

Second is becoming a battle between the two works Ford drivers. Solberg was the only man who could keep Loeb in sight at first, but began to struggle with an unspecified problem as the morning went on.

His team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala rued both a mixed-compound tyre choice for SS1 and an excessively soft set-up, yet gradually raised his pace to end the loop within 5.7s of Solberg.

Citroen Junior driver Thierry Neuville lost a little ground in his pursuit of Latvala with a small error on SS3 and when he slowed to check on Martin Prokop, whose car was on fire. The crew had already got out safely.

Neuville is still fourth, 6.7s behind Latvala.

While one factory Citroen driver dominated, the other struggled. Mikko Hirvonen admitted he had no confidence during the morning and was only fifth, 28s off the lead.

Ott Tanak held sixth until a mistake on stage three dropped him behind Dani Sordo's Mini. Tanak's M-Sport Ford team-mate Evgeny Novikov was the first major retirement, taking a rear wheel off on the opening stage.

Mads Ostberg is back in eighth and troubled by brake problems, while Chris Atkinson holds ninth on his return to the WRC in the Motorsport Italia Mini.

Leading positions after SS3: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 41m22.1s 2. Petter Solberg Ford + 13.1s 3. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 18.8s 4. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior + 25.5s 5. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen + 28.0s 6. Dani Sordo Prodrive Mini + 34.9s 7. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford + 49.0s 8. Mads Ostberg Adapta Ford + 55.2s 9. Chris Atkinson Portugal Mini + 1m22.5s 10. Sebastien Ogier VW Skoda + 1m54.6s 
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