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Loeb holds early Rally of Norway advantage

  • Story Highlights
  • Sebastien Loeb holds lead at end of the opening day of the Rally of Norway
  • World champion has slender advantage of 2.6 seconds over Mikko Hirvonen
  • Hirvonen's Ford team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala finished the day in third position
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(CNN) -- Sebastien Loeb holds the lead at the end of the opening day of the Rally of Norway, having moved ahead of Mikko Hirvonen on Friday's final stage.

World champions Loeb already looks the man to beat in this weekend's Rally of Norway.

World champions Loeb already looks the man to beat in this weekend's Rally of Norway.

The reigning world champion had trailed his Finnish rival for most of the day, but posted a time 9.9 seconds faster than Hirvonen on the return run through the Kirkenaer stage to secure a slender overnight advantage of 2.6 seconds.

Ford driver Hirvonen had been the quicker of the two men through the morning loop of four stages, opening up a lead of 4.8 seconds over the Frenchman.

That advantage had been extended to 7.3 seconds before Loeb grabbed the lead, leaving Hirvonen to deny that he had deliberately slowed his pace to allow him to run second on the road on Saturday.

World Rally Championship rules state that the first-placed driver at the end of the day runs first the following morning. Hirvonen would potentially benefit from slowing his pace as it would see Loeb effectively acting as a road sweeper on the snowy stages, leaving a cleaner line for the Focus driver to run on.

But Hirvonen denied that he had intentionally slowed. "My rear tyres are completely finished -- I tried really hard," he told PA Sport.

"We had a lot more tyre wear than the Citroens. I'm missing lots of studs. This is definitely not what I wanted to do. Now we have a lot to make up. It's going to be a big fight."

Loeb was delighted to be leading having predicted that his Citroen would struggle on the snow and ice due to the Ford Focus appearing to have better grip and stability on the slippery surface.

He said: "It's really good fun to drive like this," said the five-time world champion. "I pushed really hard, took some risks sometimes, but we're here in one piece and in a good position for tomorrow. If I had a choice I would prefer to be second on the road but I really don't think it will make a big difference."

Hirvonen's team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala finished the day third with Dani Sordo fourth for Citroen and Petter Solberg an excellent fifth as he returned to the series on his home event after losing his job when Subaru chose to quit the sport due to the current global economic crisis.

The star performer of the day was Sweden's Per-Gunnar Andersson who won two stages in his privately-entered Skoda Fabia to finish the day sixth. Henning Solberg was seventh while Britain's Matthew Wilson ended the day in the final points scoring position.

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