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2011-09-09 08:22

OGIER OUT AHEAD: At the finish of day one of the Rally Australia, the lesser known Sebastien is the one in control...

The battle for the WRC title is now wide open after Sebastien Loeb crashed out in his Citroen DS3 Down Under.

Loeb, a seven-times WRC champion, had raced into a two-second lead after going fastest on Friday’s first test. Shortly into stage four Loeb was in deep trouble when he rolled into a retirement in increasingly slippery conditions caused by heavy rain.

OGIER ON THE HUNT

The World championship leader and his co-driver Daniel Elena were unharmed but it’s not clear whether they will be able to restart under SupeRally regulations on day two, depending on the level of damage inflicted to their factory machine.

This could have a major bearing on the World championship scrap with team mate Sebastien Ogier - 25 points behind at the start of the gravel round. The tension between the two French drivers (who are team mates) is at breaking point since Ogier ignored team orders and refused to let Loeb win the earlier Germany leg.

Citroen's Sebastien Ogier gained an early advantage over team mate and bitter rival Loeb after two special stages on the opening day of Rally Australia on Thursday.

Ogier won the first special stage held in the picturesque town of Coffs Harbour on the New South Wales north coast by seven seconds.

Loeb’s rare misfortune - he last rolled on the Acropolis Rally in June 2009 two years, two months and 27 days ago - has handed top spot in Australia to Ogier, whose advantage over Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen was 9.1s at the midday service at Coffs Harbour’s regional airport.

Ogier's experience of the inclement Rally Australia weather conditions showed the same concerns felt throughout the field. "The tyres are not working so I have to drive with no risk. The plan is still the same, we try to do a good rally and score good points. That’s it for me. The rally is still long and anything can happen."

FORD'S FLYING FINNS LURKING...

Hirvonen, in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC, reported a loss of confidence in the slippery conditions to the extent he suffered a brief off-road moment close to the finish of stage three. He is 15.6sec clear of team mate Jari-Matti Latvala, who had a scare of his own when he spun into a bank on Friday’s first run.

Petter Solberg impressed with the fastest time through stage four but a high-speed spin dropped the Citroen privateer behind Latvala in the overall standings.

Evgeny Novikov is fifth after five stages in his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta. He heads team mates Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson, who have each spun in their similar cars.

Peter van Merksteijn jnr is an impressive eighth in his private Citroen despite a moment on stage four. Production Car World championship leader Hayden Paddon is ninth overall and on course for the class title. Khalid al Qassimi completes the top 10 in his Fiesta.

Monster World Rally Team’s Ken Block stopped on stage three, where several PWRC drivers hit trouble, including Leigh Gotch, Harry Hunt and Jukka Ketomaki.

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