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Loeb leads the way in bid for world title.

Byline: By Alastair Moffitt Western Mail

Sebastien loeb proved too fast for his rivals on the opening day of Wales Rally GB, but the world champion elect was too slow for event officials who halved his lead in the afternoon.

Citroen driver Loeb took the lead on stage two when Britain's round of the world championship got under-way in South Wales yesterday.

The Frenchman, who can win his second consecutive world championship this weekend, was in complete control once Marcus Gronholm lost a minute due to brake problems.

Heading into the last stage of the day, Loeb was easing towards a lead of half a minute but he arrived late for a time control, earning a 10-second penalty before a lacklustre stage six threw the rally wide open again.

Petter Solberg, chasing his fourth consecutive win in Wales, did not win a single stage yesterday but his consistency kept the pressure on Loeb and helped him end the day 19.9secs off the lead.

Two-time world champion Gronholm had the pace to make it a three-way fight for honours but the Peugeot driver was left cursing a problem in the morning.

Gronholm led after stage one but his hopes were left in tatters when brake trouble cost him over a minute and dropped him to 19th.

He won stages five and six to end the day on a positive note and show what might have been. The Finn, however, is used to such bad luck after a troubled season.

Gronholm, who fought back to fourth, said, 'As we started the second stage the brake pedal just went down completely to the floor.

'I'm really disappointed because this is a car and rally where we really had a chance to win and now it's too late to hope for that anymore.

'In some ways, it doesn't surprise me because it's always the same - we're going well, then we have a problem, then we're back again. I wanted to win and it's one we could have won. This is very frustrating.'

Loeb is not so quick to write off Gronholm's chances though, and expects a close fight as he aims for victory No 9 this season.

He said, 'It looks like we are going to have a good fight with Petter. Marcus should also be with us. He lost some time but he's driving really fast now.'

Yesterday's six stages saw Colin McRae return to the world scene after an absence of almost two years.

The Scotsman showed glimpses of his old self but the lack of pace which has troubled Skoda all season remained, leaving McRae down in 13th.

McRae, the 1995 world champion, admits his first target is to ensure his return lasts the full three days - even if that means taming his spectacular style.

'I am driving defensively which sadly is not something the spectators will really enjoy because it is not spectacular but this is about getting to the end of every stage,' he said.

'Stage one was really hard work. It was not flowing like it used to but we had fewer heart-stoppers as the day went on.'
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 17, 2005
Words:521
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