France's Sebastien Loeb and his co-driver Monaco's Daniel Elena steer their Citroen DS3 WRC during the 1st stage of the Rally Sweden, second round of the FIA World Rally Championship on February 7, 2013 in Karlstad, Sweden. AFP PHOTO/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND

Nine-times World champion Sebastien Loeb drove his Citroen to a slender lead on the opening stage of the Rally of Sweden on Thursday as the Frenchman attempted to break Ford's domination of the event.

Loeb, who intentionally included the Rally of Sweden in his scaled-down schedule of four rallies this season, carried 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 there back in 2004 while Ford drivers have won the past six editions.


He won the opening Rally of Monte Carlo in January month but has declared the only other rallies 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, just 0.7sec back in another Ford, along with Finland's Mikko Hirvonen in another Citroen.

Hirvonen, who won in Sweden in 2010 and 2011, said: “This special is not my favourite and I am always very careful.

Sebastien Ogier, in the new Volkswagen Polo, could only manage the day's ninth best time at 2.5secs behind Loeb.

He commented: “It's not that great but to be honest the real start is on Friday. There was something strange with my car.” - AFP