RALLY

Loeb dominates in Rally of Ireland opener

Frenchman Sebastien Loeb was the fastest in five of the day's Rally of Ireland stages, the first race of the season. The five-time world rally champion already won this event the last time it took place in 2007.

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AFP - Five-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb led the rain-hit, season-opening Rally of Ireland after the first day's racing on Friday.

The Frenchman led his Spanish Citroen C4 team-mate Dani Sordo by 44 seconds, with Mikko Hirvonven of Finland over a minute further back in his Ford Focus.

Loeb, who won the Rally of Ireland when it last took place in 2007, posted the fastest time in five of the day's six stages, during which heavy rain made driving conditions increasingly treacherous.

The last two stages of the day were cancelled after organisers decided that large amounts of standing water posed too great a threat to the drivers' safety.

The 22km first stage was completed amidst atrocious weather, with torrential rain flooding the asphalt road surface.

Racing on intermediate asphalt tyres, Loeb declared himself "very happy to have survived the first race".

"At the end of the third stage, I congratulated myself that I was still there with Daniel (Elena, his co-pilot), because driving was impossible, particularly in the first stage," he added.

Some drivers elected to use snow tyres to combat the rain, and the move gave a temporary boost to Ford Focus pair Jari-Matti Latvala and Urmo Aava, with Latvala finishing the first stage 42 seconds ahead of Loeb before a double puncture in stage two forced him to retire.

Aava led after the first three stages but ended up driving his Focus into a ditch on the sixth stage, with Loeb, now on snow tyres, hitting back to give the day's final standings a worryingly familiar look for his long-suffering rivals.

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