Solberg Takes Early Lead

Citroen's Sebastien Loeb began cautiously in his bid to clinch his second straight world title at the Rally of Japan on Friday

Solberg Takes Early Lead

The Frenchman suffered the disadvantage of going out first and finished fourth after the morning's loop of stages with Subaru's Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg on top.

Loeb, who only needs to finish third to wrap up the title, lost 25 seconds on the first four stages after being the first car out on roads still covered with loose gravel.

"The problem was that I was a bit too defensive on the first stage," said Loeb. "The gravel's very deep so it should be better in the afternoon when we have the second run."

Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm was third, six seconds ahead of Loeb, despite sustaining a puncture.

Loeb, who has won a record eight out of 12 races this year, has 99 points in the drivers' championship with Norwegian Solberg on 65 and Finn Gronholm on 61.

Loeb's title run-in has been overshadowed by the death of Briton Michael Park, a co-driver for Peugeot's Markko Martin, at last weekend's Rally of Britain.

Park died when their Peugeot skidded off the road at high speed and crashed into a tree during the 15th stage of the race.

The final stages of the race were cancelled and race leader Loeb took deliberate time penalties to ensure he did not win the title in such circumstances.

Pos Driver Make Time 1. Solberg Subaru 45:13.3 2. Atkinson Subaru + 12.0 3. Gronholm Peugeot + 19.0 4. Loeb Citroen + 25.0 5. Rovanpera Mitsubishi + 51.6 6. Duval Citroen + 56.0 7. Galli Mitsubishi +1:04.0 8. Warmbold Ford +1:17.9 9. Hirvonen Skoda +1:23.3 10. Carlsson Peugeot +1:28.8 11. Kresta Ford +1:29.5 12. Gardemeister Ford +1:39.3 13. Sola Ford +1:50.2 14. Schwarz Skoda +2:40.1 15. Panizzi Mitsubishi +3:09.2 16. Taguchi Mitsubishi +3:36.7 17. Nutahara Mitsubishi +3:54.5 18. Crocker Subaru +4:02.9 19. Kamada Subaru +4:53.3 20. Teiskonen Subaru +4:55.4 All Timing Unofficial 
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Preview: Loeb Looks to Finish Job
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