Citroen team leader Sebastien Loeb will want to regain the upper hand in Finland next weekend and put the problems he has experienced in Poland, Greece and Sardinia firmly behind him.

The Frenchman lost the lead in the drivers' championship last time out and now trails BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen, who has won the last two events in succession, by one point.

Following the Rally Poland last month, the WRC went into its summer recess, but the holiday is now almost over and the trip to Jyv?skyl? will mark the beginning of the end, with just four rounds left to run.

Loeb will notch up his tenth start on the '1000 Lakes' on Friday week and the five-time world champion has a good record there.

Indeed while the event has only been won by seven non-Finns - and three non-Nordic drivers - in its 58 year history, Seb is a member of that exclusive club and came out top last year following a thrilling duel with Hirvonen.

His aim now will be to repeat that, something he reckons would be a major blow to his Finnish rival. Failing that he will want to match the rostrum results he took in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

"The way things stand at the moment, it's hard to have a totally free mind, but I feel quite relaxed going to round nine in the championship," said Loeb.

"It would clearly be more comfortable if we had a lead of, say, 20 points [in the drivers' championship] going into this rally. That said, we were only three points clear of Mikko before last year's visit. This time, the gap is even narrower, and there are only four more rallies to come this season.

"As I see it, it's as though the championship will be beginning afresh in Finland, and our only option will be to attack. We will have no other alternative.

"Our C4 WRC is improving through detail changes at the moment and I know it is competitive on this event.

"Last year, I had every confidence in my car and that enabled me to push hard from start to finish. It turned out to be a very close fight, and the gap at the finish was less than 10 seconds. If we want to win again this time round, we will need to repeat the same sort of pace."

Asked about his mistake in Poland, when he was forced to retire in SS4 after hitting a tree stump and damaging the suspension on his Citroen C4 WRC, Loeb revealed that a manufacturing problem might have contributed to his exit.

"I obviously didn't take it well at the time," Seb continued. "If I had spotted the tree-stump during recce, we would have noted it and I would have taken a different line through that turn.

"As it was, I turned in exactly how I wanted to and the stump broke the front suspension subframe. As is the case every time we have a problem, the technical team took a close look at that sub-frame and they noticed there had been a production-related problem with it.

"Otherwise, there's every chance it would have taken the knock in its stride, although we will never know for sure."

As for how he will approach the remainder of the year and the other events in Australia, Spain and Wales, Loeb reiterated that it is going to be very challenging. He also added that one DNF could prove decisive.

"Last year showed that we are capable of matching the Finns on their home event. Rally Australia will be new for everyone, so we will all start on an equal footing. In Catalunya, we have the edge on paper, but I am very much aware of how much Mikko has progressed on sealed surfaces.

"The season ends with Wales Rally GB, which is an event we won last year, although Mikko will be very much at home on it, too.

"It promises to be a very close and exciting final run-in. It could go either way should one of us fail to finish an event. If that should happen, it will probably be impossible to catch up if the other driver doesn't make any mistakes.

"One thing which is sure is that a win in Finland would give me a psychological advantage going into the last three rallies," Loeb concluded.


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