Championship leader Mikko Hirvonen has taken the initiative on the Neste Oil Rally Finland this morning, the ninth round in the 2009 World Rally Championship.
Hirvonen, who was third fastest last night in the short Killeri super special, grabbed the lead in the first 'proper' stage, when he was 2.9 seconds up on Sebastien Loeb. The BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT man then increased his advantage to 7.1 seconds in SS3, when he posted his second quickest time in succession.
Although he was unable to match Loeb in SS4 and SS5, he was still third and second quickest respectively and thus returned to the mid-day service 3.6 seconds in front.
"Now that the battle is on I don't feel as relaxed as I did yesterday, but that is to be expected," said Hirvonen, who is celebrating his 29th birthday today. "I've had a good morning but it is very tight at the top of the leaderboard.
"I thought the first two stages would be harder for me but, ironically, they were the two tests on which I was fastest. I quickly found a good rhythm and a good feeling and I'm happy with the way the morning went. I will make the suspension slightly stiffer for the repeat loop this afternoon."
Loeb meanwhile slipped to fourth in SS3, when he was 'only' sixth fastest. The Frenchman struck back however in SS4 and SS5 and was much happier with his Citroen C4 WRC after topping the times in Mokkipera and Palsankyla.
"It was hard to get in the fight this morning but now it is okay," said Loeb. "We started with different settings but we went back to the ones we used last year and now the car is very good."
Loeb's Citroen team-mate, Dani Sordo is next up, 8 seconds further back and the Spaniard had no complaints: "I know 110 per cent is not possible," Sordo pondered, "so maybe I am trying 100 per cent - the car settings are perfect."
Further down the order, Jari-Matti Latvala lies fourth and after his nightmare late exit in Poland he spent the morning re-building his confidence. Indeed he was especially delighted to emerge safely from SS4 - Mökkiperä - after crashing there in both 2007 and 2008.