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Motorsport | Rallying

Sebastien Loeb © Gallo Images

New era but Loeb still out in front



The world rally championship ushered in a new era on snowy mountain roads around Monte Carlo on Wednesday with erratic timing systems causing confusion but Citroen's Sebastien Loeb leading the way as usual.

Although the Frenchman is not challenging for an astonishing 10th title in a row, he has made clear that he still wants to win the four rounds of the 13-event championship that he is contesting.

The official wrc.com website said the times for the day's third stage were under review after "possible communications issues" that indicated gaps of several minutes between the drivers and left the teams as uncertain as rally fans.

The times available also showed Loeb with a surprisingly large lead of nearly three minutes over Russian Evgeny Novikov in a Ford.

Loeb announced last September that he would not be defending his title, leaving the road open to Finnish teammate Mikko Hirvonen to become Citroen's lead driver.

"The goal is not the same, but the preparation for the rally is the same," the 38-year-old Loeb had said before Wednesday's start.

"If I am able to fight for victory, I will try to do it. But if not, it's not as bad as in the past. I am here for fun and in these conditions...it will be fun."

Compatriot Sebastien Ogier claimed the day's opening stage over winding roads and in sub-zero temperatures from Le Moulinon, south-west of Valence, to Antraigues.

The win gave his Volkswagen team the perfect start to their championship campaign.

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