Sebastien Loeb produced a stunning third stage on the opening day of a historic Rally Finland.

The event is the 500th of the World Rally Championship, and it is the man who has dominated for the last eight years who again has the edge.

With a ninth title in his sights as Loeb holds a 38-point cushion over closest rival Mikko Hirvonen, the Frenchman took command in his Citroen DS3.

Loeb was quickly off the mark in the first stage, completing the 13.68km through predominantly farming fields in just under seven minutes.

The 38-year-old finished 1.6secs clear of Petter Solberg, with 0.8secs then covering the Norwegian to Hirvonen in sixth.

Solberg managed to shave 0.1secs off Loeb's lead in the two kilometre superspecial stage on the Jokimaa trotting track.

But come the 14.22km stage three, with forest coming into play, Loeb heads into day two with a 7.3secs lead over team-mate Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala in his works Ford Fiesta RS.

Loeb, who has won five of the seven rallies so far this season, said: "I couldn't go faster.

"It was a very, very good stage and I was flat out everywhere. I was really on the limit with no mistakes at all, it was a big push."

Hirvoen knows he can perform better as he said: "I was a couple of times more on the ditch than in the road.

"We're a little behind, but we'll see tomorrow. I need to stay on the road tomorrow. I'll be a lot faster that way."

Latvala was left surprised by his display as he said: "I don't have an answer at the moment.

"I thought I was driving well and I thought it was a good stage, but I've lost five seconds and that's a lot. There's no excuse."

Leading privateer Mads Ostberg lies fourth, 7.5secs down in his Ford, followed by Thierry Neuville in his DS3 for the Citroen Junior Team, a further 1.5secs adrift.

Solberg is sixth, 9.2secs down, with Chris Atkinson, driving for Citroen this weekend for Olympic medallist Nasser Al-Attiyah, is 15.6secs down in seventh.