The champion is aiming for his seventh win while a crash in the tricky conditions rules Kimi Raikkonen out of the race.
No plans for Loeb to ease off
Sebastien Loeb has insisted that he will still be motivated to go for victory at Rally Spain, which begins today, despite having already sewn up his seventh successive world title,
The Frenchman sealed the championship earlier this month at his home event in France, but vowed to go for his seventh victory of the year in Salou.
"I'll be tackling this rally like any other, and it's not because I've won the title that I'll arrive with my hands in my pockets," the Citroen driver told wrc.com.
"I don't like losing and I'll also drive for the fun of it. We'll see how things are shaping up after the first few stages. But it's obvious that I'm not going to take unnecessary risks."
The Spanish event had until this year been a traditionally tarmac event, but this season is different, with some gravel stages being added to the route to mix up the action.
Loeb fears that starting first, the opening leg is always run in championship order, will put him at a disadvantage in the dusty conditions, and will favour his teammate Dani Sordo, who will go fifth today.
"If the weather's dry I think we'll lose a lot of time by sweeping off the layer of dust on the hard surface," Loeb said. "In my opinion, Dani Sordo is ideally placed as being fifth out he'll have a clean road in front of him.
"He can finish the day with a 20 or 30-second lead. To close such a gap to Dani on asphalt, you have to drive quickly!"
While Loeb topped the times in yesterday's shakedown, he and the rest of the drivers were given a graphic example of how tricky the conditions are going to be when Kimi Raikkonen crashed his Citroen Junior car, ruling him out of the weekend's competition.
Raikkonen, who was the Formula One world champion in 2007, was on a tarmac section when his car clipped a left-hand corner and ricocheted into a steep bank. The car rolled at least once, picking up extensive panel damage, before coming to rest on its roof.
The Finn and co-driver Kaj Lindstrom were not hurt in the smash and managed to drive the car back to the service park in Salou. However, an inspection by team mechanics found damage to the roof section of the roll cage, meaning it would be unsafe to compete.
Mikko Hirvonen, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver, who has finished on the podium three times before in Spain, said the new itinerary would be a challenge.
"I'm happy with a mixed format, but I would prefer that individual stages are held on just one surface," he said. "A car in gravel set-up is higher off the ground and it will move around a lot on asphalt."
Jari-Matti Latvala and Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi, his Abu Dhabi teammates, are also competing in Spain.
Al Qassimi said: "There is quite a lot of loose gravel in parts of the asphalt stages which present an extra challenge."