Five-time world champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) topped the opening night stage of the Finnish Rally on Thursday. The French driver is one point behind Finland's Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen in the world championship overall standings.
REUTERS - World champion Sebastien Loeb posted the fastest time in Thursday's opening night stage at the Finnish Rally.
The French Citroen driver, bidding for his sixth consecutive world championship title, raced through the 2.06-kilometres Killeri Super Special stage in one minute and 20.3 seconds, just 0.1 ahead of his Spanish team mate Dani Sordo in second place.
"It's good, but the rally is not finished yet," said Loeb, who won here last year. "This is only a stage for fun - the real game will start tomorrow. But for the moment everything is okay."
Finland's Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen, who leads the overall world championship standings by one point ahead of Loeb, posted the third best time, 0.9 behind the Frenchman.
"It was great to see and hear the support from the Finnish fans. A driver can't help but be encouraged by that type of backing," Hirvonen said after completing the Killeri course, which is based on a track used for horse trotting.
"It's frustrating to lose time, even though it was less than a second, but I have to remember that losing 0.9 seconds is really nothing to worry about. Tomorrow it will be maximum attack."
Earlier in the evening, former Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen brought the crowd to its feet as he made his WRC debut in an Abarth Grande Punto S2000.
The Finn beat his opponent Sveinung Bieltvedt of Sweden and set the 20th fastest time, 6.4 seconds behind Loeb.
The Finnish Rally resumes on Friday with eight high-speed stages in the countryside east of host town Jyvaskyla.
Date created : 2009-07-31