French veteran Sebastien Loeb posted the fastest time in his Citroen DS3 for Thursday's three specials on the opening day of the Rally of Finland, following on from his star showing in Wednesday's special qualifying stage.
At the end of the day, eight-time world champion Loeb had a 7.3sec lead over Finnish pair Jari-Matti Latvala of Ford and Citroen's Mikko Hirvonen.
World championship leader Loeb, who won here last season, set off tenth as the drivers converged on Lahti, north of Helsinki and promptly won the opening special at Koukunmaa, adding the third at Mynnila after Norwegian Petter Solberg bagged the second, the superspecial at Jokimaa, in his Ford Fiesta.
Solberg, the 2003 world champion, stood sixth overnight with 9.2sec to make up while compatriot and stablemate Mads Ostberg was fourth at 7.5sec ahead of Belgian Thierry Neuville in his Citroen.
Australian Citroen driver Chris Atkinson was provisional seventh at 15.6sec after the 30.08km stage spread across three timed specials including a 2km evening super-special at a hippodrome just outside Lahti.
“I feel well in the car at the moment and I tried really hard,” said Loeb.
“I know I can fight for the victory,”
Loeb told wrc.com, “the feeling was good and I took the opportunity to go flat out. But there are a lot of Finnish drivers wanting the victory as well so I will try my best.”
Friday's action stars with a 12.75km stage at Urria. -Sapa-AFP