Citroen team leader Sebastien Loeb pretty much maintained his lead on the Neste Oil Rally Finland following the middle loop on Saturday.

Loeb conceded 4.6 seconds to Mikko Hirvonen on the first test after service F, but pulled back 3.2 seconds in the next stage, the 20.09 kilometre-run through Kakaristo 1. SS17 saw the Frenchman lose another 1.4 seconds, but again he responded in SS18 and was 1.9 seconds up on Hirvonen.

Loeb consequently returned to Paviljonki for the mid-day halt with a 14.8 second lead, just 0.9 seconds less than he was in front post-SS14.

"A great effort again and I did that last stage really well. I was really confident and pushed hard. The tyres are strong and we had no punctures so I was very happy," said Loeb. "I am just trying to keep the same gap we have had all day - it will be difficult to increase it I think."

Hirvonen meanwhile continues to keep the pressure on and the youngster is refusing to give up in front of his home fans.

"It is getting close but it is not over. I am not giving up," vowed the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT #1. "Seb is a fighter and he is putting in some amazing times but I am pushing hard all the time. The car is going really well. I have just got to get some time back."

Dani Sordo is third, albeit more than 2 minutes off the battle at the front. The Spaniard had been fifth post-SS14, but moved up a spot in SS15, when he overhauled Henning Solberg and then gained another place in SS16, when Gigi Galli crashed out.

"I'm sorry that Gigi has gone out, but now I can relax a bit and concentrate on improving our times," said the Citroen #2.

Henning Solberg trails Sordo in P4 and while he would have only been 7 seconds back, that margin increased to 17 seconds, after he picked up a 10 second penalty for jumping the start in SS16.

"I don't know what happened. I did something wrong with my handbrake and jumped the start at SS16 which has got me a 10 second penalty so it is now all or nothing," noted the Norweigan. "I know I have the speed so I just have to keep up my confidence and try to take as much out of Dani Sordo as I can if I want that podium."

Further down the order Subaru WRT men Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg are fifth and sixth, the former just 2.9 seconds off Henning after a string of good times, including a third best effort in SS18.

"I am getting closer to Henning now," said the Aussie, "although I was a bit slow in SS18 as the electric window stopped working and wouldn't go up, so I got some dust in my eyes. It's no worries, though, and I'm looking for a good clean run through the rest of the day."

Ford privateer Matti Rantanen and Suzuki's Toni Gardemeister complete the eight, while Britain's Matthew Wilson is ninth, followed by Conrad Rautenbach, the Munchi's Ford entries of Luis-Perez Companc and Federico Villagra and Khalid Al-Qassimi.

In terms of retirements the loop claimed two big scalps, namely Galli and Suzuki's Per-Gunnar Andersson. Both went off around two thirds of the way through SS16 and were unable to continue.

Juha Salo, who had been leading the P-WRC, also went out in Kakaristo 1, something that handed the class lead to Juho Hanninen. Hanninen is now over a minute on Patrik Flodin.

In the J-WRC, Suzuki Swift man Michal Kosciuszko and Citroen C2 S1600 runner, Martin Prokop remain locked together in the battle for P1, the former currently 1.3 seconds in front, while Patrik Sandell completes the 'Junior' top three, 20 seconds or so further back.

The second leg now concludes with a third and final loop of three tests, which begins with the repeat run through 20.09 km Kakaristo test at 16.13 hours. SS19 is followed by the 21.13km Juupajoki test at 17.03 hours and the 16.25km Vaarinmaja stage at 17.56 hours [all times local].