Multiple World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb had to settle for the runners-up spot on the Neste Oil Rally Finland last weekend after being outclassed by championship rival Mikko Hirvonen.

Loeb initially took the lead on the ninth round in the 2009 World Rally Championship, when he set the pace on Thursday in the short Killeri super special, which as normal opened proceedings on the 1000 Lakes.

However he dropped down to second in the first 'proper' test on Friday and while he kept right up with Hirvonen on day 1, finishing it only 3.3 seconds adrift, he was unable to do the same on Saturday.

Indeed he was powerless to stop the local star from extending the gap and trailed him in SS11, SS12, SS13 and SS14, with the margin up to 12.5 seconds heading into what would be the decisive repeat run through Himos 2.

Loeb picked up a puncture there and that saw him drop an additional 13.5 seconds and effectively ended his bid to win in Jyv?skyl? for the second year in a row.

After that he settled for second and eventually brought his Citroen C4 WRC car to the finish on Sunday 25.1 seconds adrift of P1.

"It had been one hell of a battle with Mikko, but when I had my puncture I knew it was over," Loeb reflected. "I would have preferred to have won, but there was little I could do about the result this weekend.

"Mikko put in a flawless run on his home event after being on the limit from start to finish. We've dropped another two points in the title chase, so it looks like it's going to be a close-run thing to the end. But we have got another eight championship points so that is still good for us."

Asked about that incident on day two in SS15, Loeb reiterated that it was the key to his downfall, although he added that even without it, it would still have been difficult to beat Hirvonen.

"Yes, for sure, I did feel it was all over when I picked up that puncture. I was pushing really on the limit and Mikko was still ahead. Before my puncture I was more than 10 seconds behind so it was still possible [to win] but difficult," Loeb confirmed.

"I tried very hard and then I had the puncture. It was then that I knew I couldn't take him and I began to think of the Championship. Trying too hard was not the solution because the only thing I could do was so wait for him to make a mistake. So I drove for a second place.

"We have three rallies to go now and Mikko has a three point lead. We will see what happens. But I am sure it will be very interesting in the championship."

As for what was different this year compared to 2008, when he dominated the opening day and then went on to win, Loeb noted it was all to do with their respective cars.

"I struggled a bit at the start of the rally to find the limits and rhythm, but Mikko was faster this year. I think our car hasn't improved a lot since last year as it was running pretty similar times.

"But Mikko's car has got better - that was the biggest difference. I saw his lines on the Saturday stages and could see he was on the limit and I wasn't as far in the ditch as he was. I knew he had a good feeling from that moment on," Loeb summed-up.


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