Citroen team leader Sebastien Loeb has increased his advantage on the Neste Oil Rally Finland this morning following the opening loop of three stages, which kicked off the second leg.

Loeb was second best to his closest and only real rival Mikko Hirvonen in the first test of the day, the 15.35 kilometre-run through Himos, however the Frenchman struck back in SS13 and SS14. He thus returned to service with his overnight lead up from 14.4 seconds to 15.7.

"The first stage was difficult - and not such a good wake-up call for me," Seb conceded. "Mikko seems to be faster than me when the road is wider and yet when the stages are narrow I am quicker.

"I don't know if my position on the road is an advantage or not but so far so good. The fight this year looks like the one I had against Marcus [Gronholm] two years ago. It is a classic battle and I am really enjoying it."

Hirvonen meanwhile was disappointed with his pace in Hirvimaki and having conceded 3.7 seconds felt that he had probably been overly cautious in his Focus RS WRC07: "We were too careful in SS13 because in the middle there was a rocky part that we tried to avoid as we didn't want to pick up a puncture. The trouble is we did not go fast enough," said the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT #1.

"Seb and I are crazy to go so fast but there is no slowing down and this afternoon we will be faster."

Stobart Ford's Gigi Galli is third and the Italian moved in front of his team-mate, Henning Solberg in the first test. He now has an 8.4 second cushion, while Citroen's Dani Sordo is only 1.2 seconds further back in fifth in the second 'works' C4 WRC car.

"We were very happy with the opening stages this morning and it is very nice to have a big fight like this [for the final place on the podium]," said Gigi. "It is not easy to drive without making mistakes though, especially when the stages are new. I am not relaxed because I have to drive very fast."

Henning in contrast was annoyed to have lost third: "The first section was not so good this morning and I don't know why. It just feels that the car doesn't have enough grip today," added the Norwegian.

Further down the order Subaru duo Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg are sixth and seventh in the all-new Impreza WRC2008, the latter having dropped behind his team-mate in SS13.

"The first two stages today we had quite a good feeling, but in the last stage [SS14] it went and I couldn't push," said Petter. "It felt like I lost a lot of grip on the loose surface suddenly, so the engineers will look at it in service and make some changes before this afternoon. There is some road cleaning this morning which is making a difference, but in stage 14 it was very tough so I had to back off a bit, that's why we lost so much time."

"The middle stage this morning was a little damp, but the others were still quite loose and mixed conditions. We were third fastest on two of the stages, but ok, we're still a little disappointed to be where we are overall," added Atkinson. "There's a bit of road sweeping, but we're a similar gap from the leaders on each stage so we'll keep working at it."

Per-Gunnar Andersson completes the top eight at this point for Suzuki, 15 seconds or so up on Ford privateer Matti Rantanen, while Britain's Matthew Wilson moved up to tenth in SS14, when Toni Gardemeister lost over 60 seconds with power steering problems and dropped from P9 to P11.

"The problem is with one of the diffs I think - and the steering and brakes aren't as good as they should be either," said Gardemeister.

Of the other World Rally Car drivers Conrad Rautenbach is 12th, followed by Munchi's Ford WRT men Luis-Perez Companc and Federico Villagra, in 13th and 14th and then BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT 'third' driver Khalid Al-Qassimi.

Jari-Matti Latvala, Urmo Aava and Andreas Mikkelsen all re-started under the SupeRally this morning after there offs on day 1.

"We found it very hard to get the confidence back after yesterday. It is better now and we are feeling happier. I just want to get my speed back and get more experience," said Latvala.

In the P-WRC Juha Salo continues to lead - now 13.1 seconds up on Juho Hanninen, while in the J-WRC, Michal Kosciuszko and Martin Prokop are still squabbling for the class honours, the latter 4.2 seconds adrift.

The action now resumes at 10.46 hours local time with the 21.43 kilometre-run through Leustu, SS15. Four stages lay in wait before competitors return to service again at Paviljonki.


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