All eyes were on the two Sebastiens on the first leg of the French Rally today but both were edged out of the limelight as Thierry Neuville end the day at the top of the timesheets.

Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier hit the track on Friday morning as World Rally's first new champion since 2004 after wrapping up his maiden crown on Thursday night's points-paying power stage.

Ogier's achievement ended the nine-year reign of fellow Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, who this weekend is contesting his final WRC race having signed up to contest just four rallies in 2013.

Loeb demonstrated on his three previous outings this season that he is by no means quitting the sport due to a lack of pace, having won in both Monte Carlo and Argentina and finished second in Sweden, and once again the Citroen driver looked a class apart as he won all of Friday's opening three stages.

Loeb was unable to hold onto his lead in the afternoon, however, as M-Sport Ford driver Neuville, benefiting from making the correct tyre choice in tricky wet-dry conditions, rattled off three stage wins of his own to lead by 9.8 seconds from Loeb's team-mate Dani Sordo heading into day two.

The VW of Jari-Matti Latvala and the Citroen of Loeb were next up, the pair separated by just 0.4secs and within three seconds of Sordo.

Newly-crowned champion Ogier struggled on the rally's first leg, underperforming on the morning loop and then struggling with an incorrect tyre choice in the afternoon.

"You can't always be at your best all of the time," Ogier admitted after stage six.

The VW driver will head into the penultimate day 28.7secs off the leader's pace and with plenty of work to do if he hopes to cap his title-winning weekend with a seventh victory of the season.