Sebastien Loeb is in emphatic form on the first morning of his home round of the World Rally Championship. The local hero was nearly 15 seconds clear of Citroen teammate Sebastien Ogier after winning all four of Friday morning's damp stages.
"It's good," Loeb said. "Tricky conditions for the moment, but good times and we are leading, so no problems at all."
The Citroens of Ogier, Dani Sordo and Petter Solberg each finished runner-up on a stage today but it's Ogier that led Loeb's chasers, five seconds ahead of Solberg. Sordo was an additional four seconds back in fourth, but still five seconds ahead of the first of the Fords.
Jari-Matti Latvala was the only Ford left in the hunt already, though 28 seconds behind Loeb, finishing fifth on the first three stages but improving to second on SS4.
"The first two stages were not really having the rhythm, just losing more time," Latvala said. "From stage three onward I calmed down a bit and was more smooth – I switched on the tarmac driving in my brain and it started to go. Stage four went really well.
"I haven't been so good on tarmac but I have really worked on it a lot. I still have work to do, you can see that. If you don't have the confidence in risks like I have on gravel, on tarmac you lose so quickly so much. But the car feels good, I think the setup is right. It's just a matter of getting a good feeling with the driving. It will be muddy this afternoon with damp cuts under the trees."
Mikko Hirvonen was a massive 1m06s adrift in sixth. Kimi Raikkonen was easily best of the rest, having finished seventh on all four stages so far. The Finn is 53 seconds down on Hirvonen and nearly a minute ahead of his nearest challenger, Frigyes Turan.
Turan's Peugeot heads a multi-car battle for eighth spot, with the Fords of Federico Villagra, Matt Wilson, Ken Block, Khalid Al Qassimi and Henning Solberg.
The line of blue ovals was broken up by Yvan Muller's Citroen. The World Touring Car Championship leader is 12th overall after the first morning's running, having had a steady run to 16th, 13th, 12th, 11th on each of the stages.
"I am happy so far," Muller said. "We have only done three stages, of course, but I am learning as I go, step by step – not too quick, not too confident."
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen +14.7s
2. Sebastien Ogier Citroen +19.3s
3. Petter Solberg Citroen +23.3s
4. Dani Sordo Citroen +28.3s
5. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford +1m06.0s
6. Mikko Hirvonen Ford +1m59.9s
7. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen +2m56.8s
8. Frigyes Turan Peugeot +3m08.4s
9. Federico Villagra Ford +3m22.5s
10. Matt Wilson Ford +3m26.1s