(Reuters) - Sebastien Loeb became at 46 the oldest driver to lead a round of the world rally championship after ending Friday’s opening leg of Rally Turkey with a 1.2 seconds advantage over Hyundai team mate Thierry Neuville.
The Frenchman, a nine times world champion and three times Rally Turkey winner who now races only in selected events, was competing for the first time since January’s Monte Carlo season-opener.
Turkey is the fifth round of the championship.
“I didn’t expect to be leading tonight,” he told the wrc.com website after the two short and dusty evening speed tests totalling a mere 25.22km.
“The last stage, I had a lot of pressure at the start because we didn’t find the road so good. I had precise notes so I was able to do it and leading the rally tonight is the best thing that can happen.”
Toyota’s championship leader Sebastien Ogier, who won six titles in a row after compatriot Loeb retired from full-time rallying, was in third place and a tenth of a second behind Neuville.
Team mates Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanpera were fourth and fifth.
Estonian world champion Ott Tanak was in seventh place for Hyundai but only 4.8 seconds off the lead.
Saturday is the rally’s longest leg, covering 107.38km west of Marmaris with a loop of three coastal stages in the morning and repeated again in the afternoon with a service stop in between.
The overall positions after leg one are reversed to set the road order for the second leg.
“Running first on the road, it was slippery like we expected so it was definitely challenging,” said Ogier.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Toby Davis
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