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2011-11-11 07:39

TWISTING 5.3KM: Matthew Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin of Britain drive their M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta WRC during the opening stage of the 2011 Wales Rally GB. Images: APF

Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen shared the opening day's honours in the Wales Rally GB, with the world title protagonists winning one stage apiece.

Citroen's French ace Loeb, bidding for an unprecedented eighth successive championship, claimed the second stage with his Finnish arch rival's Ford Fiesta taking the day's third and final special.

Loeb, who has an eight-point advantage in the drivers' standings going into this 13th and final title-decider, holds a 0.7sec edge on Hirvonen, with Hirvonen's teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, winner of the first stage, 3.1sec back in third.

The first two stages were run over the Great Orme all-asphalt toll road in North Wales, not used in the event since 1981, with Latvala's third special win coming in the Clocaenog Forest, appearing for the first time on the rally's itinerary since 1996.


Hirvonen said: "It was surprisingly dark in the forests but I was quite happy with that.

"I said I was going to wait for the forest to launch my attack and that's what I did and I put in a good time."

Loeb commented: "It wasn't easy to find a good rhythm, there were a lot of changes in grip in the first special so I had to pay attention.

"In the third stage in the forest with the fog and night falling - to drive freely at 100 percent in those conditions would mean taking risks."

Hirvonen has vowed to go all out for victory here this weekend as he attempts to muscle in on Loeb's title monopoly.


And the Ford driver reiterated at the end of Thursday's action that winning was his only objective.

Yet if Hirvonen does emerge as victorious on Sunday with Loeb second then it is Loeb who will take the drivers' crown by a solitary point.

However, with bonus points up for grabs on the Power Stage, the championship could be decided by the outcome of the rally’s final test on Sunday afternoon.

Loeb's Citroen teamamte Sebastien Ogier, out of the title running 29 points behind the Frenchman in third place in the overall standings, crashed out in the opening two kilometres of the day's first special, with a wheel coming off his Citroen.

His mechanics are attempting to repair the damage so he can line up on Saturday morning and help in any way he can Loeb's championship aspirations, notably by taking some bonus points away from Hirvonen in the 23rd Power Stage.


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