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Loeb leads way, Hirvonen hangs on - just.

Citroen team leader Sebastien Loeb staked his claim for his first ever victory on the Neste Oil Rally Finland this morning, by powering into a 9.1-second lead on the first two loops.

Loeb, who took the lead last night by setting the pace through the short Killeri super special, was on it from the off in his C4 WRC car and he won four stages outright and tied for honours with Mikko Hirvonen in SS2 and SS6 – when they were both joint fastest.

"It is going very, very well so far. It is a pity about the weather as the stages were very wet in some places and then would go onto dry damp spots. For sure it is a bit risky to go quickly but, hey, no problem so far," reflected the Frenchman. "My plan is to fight for first place. I don't know if my lead is enough yet though for tomorrow."

Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile was the only runner that was anywhere near Loeb, but despite matching the four-time world champion in Vellipohja 1 and Mokkipera 2, he was unable to beat him and consequently he now finds himself almost 10 seconds adrift.

"I've enjoyed a good battle with Sébastien Loeb," said Mikko. "I am trying to beat him and trying not to make any mistakes at the same time. It's not always easy!

"The first stage was quite wet while the other two were damp, but I had no rain on the stages. It was slippery in the gravel on the drier roads but I don't think Loeb had any advantage by starting one position behind me. But I expected the cars further down the order to be quicker.

"It's strange my pace is not fast enough. The gap is not big, but on the other hand, we haven't been able to narrow it either. I was too careful in SS6 and need to pick up my pace. Tactics might come into play later so we shall see what happens on the final loop."

Dani Sordo is next up, albeit just over 30 seconds off his team-mate, and currently on course for the final spot on the podium. The battle for P3 though is very tight and Stobart Ford's Gigi Galli is only 4.3 seconds further back, while Henning Solberg is also in contention and so too is Urmo Aava. Indeed the four are only split by around 12 seconds.

Further down the order, Ramsport Ford runner Andreas Mikkelsen is seventh, while Petter Solberg is eighth in the new Subaru Impreza WRC2008, 5.8 seconds off P7 and almost a minute off P1.



Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Sebastien Loeb (FRA) Daniel Elena (MON), Citroen C4, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, Monza, [Credit: Hyundai Motorsport]
Podium 1st Australian - Molly Taylor (AUS) Bill Hayes (AUS) Subaru Impreza WRX Sti
Podium - Volkswagen
Podium - Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) Anders Jaeger Synnevag (NOR) Volkswagen Polo R WRC
Lorenzo Bertelli (ITA) Simone Scattolin (ITA) Ford RS WRC
Podium, 1st Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) Anders Jaeger Synnevag (NOR) Volkswagen Polo R WRC, 2nd Sebastien Ogier (FRA) Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Volkswagen Polo R WRC, 3rd Thierry Neuville (BEL) Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 WRC
Podium, 1st Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) Anders Jaeger Synnevag (NOR) Volkswagen Polo R WRC, 2nd Sebastien Ogier (FRA) Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Volkswagen Polo R WRC, 3rd Thierry Neuville (BEL) Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 WRC
Podium - Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) Anders Jaeger Synnevag (NOR) Volkswagen Polo R WRC
Podium - Volkswagen
Podium - Volkswagen
Podium 1st Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) Anders Jaeger Synnevag (NOR) Volkswagen Polo R WRC, 2nd Sebastien Ogier (FRA) Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Volkswagen Polo R WRC, 3rd Thierry Neuville (BEL) Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 WRC
Podium - Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) Anders Jaeger Synnevag (NOR) Volkswagen Polo R WRC
Podium - Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) Anders Jaeger Synnevag (NOR) Volkswagen Polo R WRC
Mads Ostberg (NOR) Ola Floene (NOR) Ford Fiesta RS WRC
Sebastien Ogier (FRA) Volkswagen Polo R WRC
Sebastien Ogier (FRA) Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Volkswagen Polo R WRC
Sebastien Ogier (FRA) Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Volkswagen Polo R WRC

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