Loeb finds hard road easy but crash ruins Raikkonen's promising start

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The Independent Online

Sebastien Loeb continued his brilliant run in the World Rally Championship yesterday, building up a lead of almost half a minute by winning all four stages on the first day of the Rally Bulgaria.

The Citroën driver, who leads the overall standings, stamped his authority by comfortably clinching the first and longest Batak Lake stage in the Rhodope mountains and his lead never looked in danger for the rest of the day.

"It was good, a very good start," France's six-time world champion said. "Everything with the car was perfect. The grip was not so bad. It was OK but you can't compare it to another tarmac rally. It's wide and fast here and it's impressive to drive."

Former Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen lost control of his Citroën during the fourth Belmeken Lake stage and rolled over. The Finn escaped unhurt and completed the stage at low speed.

"In the middle of the stage Kimi went off the road and he did a half-roll," said the Citroën Junior Team manager, Benoit Nogier. "The car was on its roof and he hit a tree. From what I hear it seems the car could be OK for tomorrow."

Raikkonen had been fourth after the third stage and on course for his best result since he switched from grand prix racing at the end of last season.

"It's a shame because Kimi showed very good speed," added Nogier. "He took the soft tyres when everyone else was on the hard and it seems his choice could've been quite good."

Loeb will take a 28.1 second lead over his Citroën team-mate Dani Sordo into today's second day of the three-day race, the first WRC event to be held in Bulgaria. Norway's Petter Solberg, in a privately entered Citroën, was in third place, 38 sec adrift of Loeb.

Rally of Sweden winner Mikko Hirvonen was in the highest-placed Ford in fourth position, with his team mate Jari-Matti Latvala fifth.

Sebastien Ogier lost a lot of time after going off the road in the third stage but managed to climb to sixth place.