Loeb leads in Catalunya
Salou - French favourite Sebastien Loeb maintained his hopes of an eighth world championship title by stretching his lead in the Rally of Catalunya after all six of Friday's stages.
Loeb, in a Citroen DS3, leads Ford drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen by 30.6 seconds and 54.2 seconds respectively after the first of three days of racing in the Salou region.
In what is the penultimate race of the season Loeb is battling Hirvonen for overall supremacy. Both he and the Finn started the race here as joint leaders.
Compatriot Sebastien Ogier, in the second Citroen, sits joint third in the standings only three points adrift but suffered a title blow when he suffered a puncture to lose over a minute as his tyre was changed on the fifth special.
Ogier finished the opening day in fourth, at 1:45.3 behind Loeb.
The final stage of the day proved crucial.
Latvala went into the night-time Les Garrigues run with a 16-second lead over Loeb, but the French driver seized his opportunity when his rival spun and then suffered a front-right puncture.
"I’m quite happy to be at the finish, especially in this one in the night," said Loeb.
Latvala admitted it had been a challenge driving in the dark.
"It’s incredibly difficult to drive in the darkness with the dust. We spun first and after that there were rocks on the road which I couldn’t avoid. I hit the rocks and I’ve lost a lot of time. My pace on the tarmac is not going to be enough on Saturday."
Hirvonen believed there were question marks over the decision to run in the darkness over a track which was mostly gravel.
"You couldn't see anything in some places, even a gap of four minutes was not enough," he said.
Results after all six specials on the opening day of the Rally of Catalunya, the 12th and penultimate event in the world rally championship:
1. Sebastien Loeb (FRA) Citroen DS3 1hr 44min 06.3sec
2. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) Ford Fiesta RS at 30.6sec
3. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) Ford Fiesta RS 54.2
4. Sebastien Ogier (FRA) Citroen DS3 1min 45.3sec
5. Dani Sordo (ESP) Mini John Cooper Works 2:02.7
6. Kris Meeke (GBR) Mini John Cooper Works 2:52.8
7. Mads Ostberg (NOR) Ford Fiesta RS 3:03.1
8. Henning Solberg (NOR) Ford Fiesta RS 3:11.6
9. Matthew Wilson (GBR) Ford Fiesta RS 5:16.8
Specials winners: Loeb 2 (SS1, SS6), Ogier 2 (SS2, SS3), Latvala 2 (SS4, SS5)