Sebastien Loeb made the perfect start to this week's Rally Finland with quickest time on Wednesday evening's qualifying stage.
The Frenchman - the only non-Scandinavian to have won the Jyvaskyla-based event more than once – was 0.555 seconds faster than Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala. Loeb's Citroen team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was third fastest, eight tenths of a second down on the defending world champion.
"It was hard to judge the road," said Loeb. "Between our two practice runs, it had rained quite hard and I wasn't sure how the grip would be, but OK this was a good drive from me. I was a little bit worried about how the road surface would be in the qualifying stage, but in the end it was OK."
Latvala admitted he'd had the perfect run in his Fiesta RS WRC.
"I couldn’t go faster than this," said the Finn. "Everything was OK. The road was a little bit soft in some places, but now we have to see. A lot of what we can do with the road position depends on the weather we are going to have. I don’t think first on the road will be the right place, maybe a few cars further back."
The qualifying stage wasn't straightforward for everyone. Chris Atkinson was ninth quickest after he stalled on the line in his first Citroen DS3 WRC drive, Ken Block suffered an engine problem in his Fiesta and Ott Tanak and Jari Ketomaa had half spins in the stage.
The drivers will now go and select their place on the road for tomorrow evening's opening loop of three stages in the Lahti area.
The Finnish roads have been doused with heavy showers intermittently during the day and further changeable weather is expected to continue throughout the event, which finishes in Jyvaskyla on Saturday night.
- Sebastien Loeb
- Mikko Hirvonen