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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
21.05.2017 - 1st place Sébastien Ogier (FRA)-Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Ford Fiesta WRC, M‐Sport World Rally Team, 2nd place Thierry Neuville (BEL)-Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, Hyundai Motorsport and 3rd place Dani Sordo (ESP)-Marc Marti (ESP),Hyundai i2 Coupe WRC, Hyundai Motorsport
21.05.2017 - Fabio Andolfi (ITA) Manuel Fenoli (ITA) HYUNDAI i20 R5, ACI TEAM ITALIA
21.05.2017 - HIROKI ARAI (JPN) - GLENN MACNEALL (AUS) FORD FIESTA R5, TOMMI MÄKINEN RACING
21.05.2017 - HIROKI ARAI (JPN) - GLENN MACNEALL (AUS) FORD FIESTA R5, TOMMI MÄKINEN RACING
21.05.2017 - TEEMU SUNINEN (FIN) - MIKKO MARKKULA (FIN) FORD FIESTA R5, M-SPORT WORLD RALLY TEAM
21.05.2017 - Pontus Tidemand (SWE)-Jonas Andersson (SWE) Skoda Fabia R5 WRC2, Skoda Motorsport
21.05.2017 - Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)-Anders Jaeger (NOR) SKODA FABIA R5, SKODA MOTORSPORT
21.05.2017 - Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)-Anders Jaeger (NOR) SKODA FABIA R5, SKODA MOTORSPORT
21.05.2017 - JEAN-MICHEL RAOUX (FRA) - THOMAS ESCARTEFIGUE (FRA) CITROEN DS3 WRC
21.05.2017 - Valeriy Gorban (UKR)-Sergei Larens (EST) BMW‐Mini John Cooper Works, Eurolamp World Rally Team
21.05.2017 - Martin Prokop (CZE) - Jan Tomanek (CZE) Ford Fiesta RS WRC, ONEBET JIPOCAR WORLD RALLY TEAM
21.05.2017 - Martin Prokop (CZE) - Jan Tomanek (CZE) Ford Fiesta RS WRC, ONEBET JIPOCAR WORLD RALLY TEAM
21.05.2017 - SHEIK KHALID AL QASSIMI (ARE) - CHRIS PATTERSON (GBR) CITROEN C3 WRC, CITROËN TOTAL ABU DHABI WRT
21.05.2017 - SHEIK KHALID AL QASSIMI (ARE) - CHRIS PATTERSON (GBR) CITROEN C3 WRC, CITROËN TOTAL ABU DHABI WRT
21.05.2017 - Mads Ostberg (NOR)-Ola Floene (NOR) Ford Fiesta WRC, M‐Sport World Rally Team
21.05.2017 - Mads Ostberg (NOR)-Ola Floene (NOR) Ford Fiesta WRC, M‐Sport World Rally Team
21.05.2017 - Essapeka Lappi (FIN) Janne Ferm (FIN), TOYOTA YARIS WRC, TOYOTA GAZOO RACING WRT

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