Gertwiller: Sebastien Loeb moved a step closer to an unprecedented seventh consecutive world title in front of his home fans after his closest rival crashed out on the second day of the Rallye de France.
The Citroen driver took charge in slippery conditions extending his lead to 42.8 seconds over Spanish team mate Daniel Sordo.
"It`s been another good but difficult day," Loeb was quoted as saying World Rally Championship website. "We`ve managed to set some good times and now have a good lead although there is still a long way to go."
Frenchman Sebastien Ogier, his closest rival for the title, crashed out in the third official Citroen C4, after struggling early in the afternoon session with a suspension problem.
That meant fellow Citroen driver, Norwegian Petter Solberg moved into third place more than a minute behind Loeb.
A win would give Loeb the world title with two rallies left, although second place would be enough if Ogier fails to finish the race in the top four.
While Ogier can re-start tomorrow under rally rules, he will be outside the top 10.
Loeb, 36, won two of the morning`s four stages and had opened a gap of almost 43 seconds over Sordo halfway through the day.
"We were worried he couldn`t handle the pressure, but he has," Citroen director Olivier Quesnel, told television.
The French rally returned to Alsace -- Loeb`s birthplace -- this year after previously taking place in Corsica.
Former Formula One champion, Kimi Raikkonen, also driving a Citroen, joined Ogier on the sidelines on stage 15, retiring after crashing into a ditch.
Solberg won the last two stages of the day cementing third place after Finn Jari Matti Latvala spun in the final stage to end up 20 seconds behind the Norwegian.