Karlstad - Nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb drove his Citroen to a slender lead on the opening stage of the Rally of Sweden Thursday as the Frenchman attempts to break Ford's domination of the event.
Loeb, who intentionally included the Rally of Sweden in his scaled down schedule of four races this season, carries a 0.5sec lead into Friday, ahead of Russian Evgeny Novikov with Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala, who won in 2012, on the same time.
Loeb has found it frustratingly difficult to win in Sweden and picked up his only win back in 2004 while Ford drivers have won the last six editions.
He won the opening Rally of Monte Carlo last month but has declared the only other races he will enter this season will be in Argentina and his home rally in France.
Norwegian Mads Ostberg is up amongst the leaders in fourth and just 0.7sec back in another Ford along with Finland's Mikko Hirvonen in another Citroen.
"This special is not my favourite and I am always very careful," said Hirvonen who won in Sweden in 2010 and 2011.
Frenchman Sebastien Ogier, in a Volkswagen, could only manage the day's ninth best time at 2.5secs behind Loeb.
"It's not that great but to be honest the real start is tomorrow (Friday). There was something strange with my car," he added.
Standings after the opening special in the Rally of Sweden on Thursday:
Sebastien Loeb (FRA/Citroen DS3) 1:34.5, 2. Evgeny Novikov (RUS/Ford
Fiesta RS) at 0.5secs, 3. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN/VW Polo R) 0.5, 4.
Mads Ostberg (NOR/Ford Fiesta RS) 0.7, 5. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN/Citroen
DS3) 0.7, 6. Thierry Neuville (BEL/Ford Fiesta RS) 1.7, 7. Daniel Sordo
(ESP/Citroen DS3) 1.9, 8. Jarkko Nikara (FIN/MINI) 2.0, 9. Sebastien
Ogier (FRA/VW Polo R) 2.5, 10. Henning Solberg (NOR/Ford) 2.6