Sebastien Loeb has admitted a third Rally New Zealand win is unlikely for him due to running first on the road on this week's fifth round of the World Rally Championship.
Recent dry weather on the North Island means the Frenchman will struggle with sweeping the loose gravel from the surface of the roads north of the event's base in Auckland.
"It is going to be hard," said Loeb, "there is a lot of loose gravel around. For this event, I think I have to say that I will be happy to stay in touch with the leaders and make the podium."
Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen both agreed that Loeb's position was likely to cost him time on tomorrow's stages.
"It'll be very difficult being at the front, a big disadvantage for him," said Solberg, "and I think on the second run it can be even tougher for Loeb. I think when four cars have passed, the difference could be as much as one second per kilometer. But we'll see – I'm sure it'll be the same guys fighting for the win on Sunday afternoon."
Hirvonen added: "Even if it rains, if it's windy, the road will dry really quickly and the road will clean. And it'll clean lots. Running behind Sebastien, he will clean it for me, but for the guys behind like [Sebastien] Ogier and Dani Sordo, it's going to be really clean."
Hirvonen said he expected a charge from Ogier and Sordo to get to the front of the field for Saturday and Sunday in order to help Loeb recover from what is likely to be a tough opening day for the six-time champion.
"They [Sordo and Ogier] will be right up there tomorrow night, I'm sure of that," Hirvonen said. "I was first on the road on Saturday two years ago here. I think I had 40 seconds lead, but Sebastien still caught me in one day – the loose gravel can be really bad here."