Citroen privateer Petter Solberg heads the pack in Finland following the opening loop this morning, having regained his overnight lead in SS4, when BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT man Mikko Hirvonen crashed out.

Solberg, who was quickest in SS1 yesterday evening, began the day by setting the fourth best time in Urria 1. Consequently he dropped down to third. However he hauled himself back up to second in SS3, with the second best time, before finding himself promoted to P1 in SS4, when Hirvonen rolled his Focus RS WRC.

Solberg was third through Urria 2 and he matched that in SS5, to return to service in Paviljonki with a slender 1.3 second advantage.

"It was good," said Petter. "I took it quite smartly and tried not to be crazy. I've got a good feeling. We have to take it step by step. We were a bit shocked to see Mikko go out.

"It's a long rally and I will try to be consistent now and stay where I am. That last stage was very difficult the second time round. There were deep ruts and my car was too low for the conditions. I must save my car for tomorrow."

Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile now holds second and he cut Solberg's lead by 1.8 seconds in SS5: "Mikko's retirement has put more pressure on me, but I'm not changing my way of thinking," vowed the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT #2.

"I saw his car and had to drive around it a little because it was partly in the road. I hurt my back after a jump in Urria this morning but I had some treatment from our physio before the second loop and it feels fine now.

"I know where I can go flat out on this rally and where I can't. I'm not at my limit most of the time but if I push harder then it means taking risks and I don't want that. It's important to trust and respect the pace notes here."

Dani Sordo lies third and the Spaniard was quickest in the final stage of the loop, to close up on the top two. He is now just 5.1 seconds off top spot and 3.8 seconds off P2, keen no doubt to make a point after being demoted to the Citroen Junior Team for the remaining gravel rounds of 2010 - and losing his 'A' team seat to Ogier for 2011.

"We decided to go flat out even though the last stage was quite rough," said Sordo. "I'm really happy with the car. It's better than yesterday. I'm getting more confidence."

Sebastien Ogier and Sebastien Loeb complete the top five, with Ogier 6.7 seconds off Sordo, and Loeb a further 7.1 seconds adrift. Ogier was quickest in Urria 2, while Loeb, who was third in the first two tests, could only set two sixths in SS4 and SS5 after damaging the front spoiler on his C4 WRC.

"It's so fast here and the aerodynamics are very important," Loeb explained. "The car was undriveable [in those last two tests]. I could turn it into the corners only by braking. I'm amazed how much the damage actually affected the handling."

Stobart Ford man Henning Solberg is next up and sixth, and encouragingly for the Norwegian he is just 4.1 seconds off Loeb. He hit a sign post in SS5 and suffered a small spin in SS3, but that was his only dramas.

"I have to push hard everywhere in this rally but I am happy with how everything is going so far," Henning noted. "I last drove the [Ford] Focus in Portugal so it's just going to take a bit of time to get used to driving the car again.

"The gearbox and differential were causing some problems on the first couple of stages but it seems OK now. It was awful to hear that Mikko [Hirvonen] rolled on SS3 - he really didn't deserve that but he will come back. On the last stage of the morning, we cut down a road sign but it doesn't seem to have damaged the car too much."

Britain's Matthew Wilson and F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen round out the top eight, albeit more than a minute off the pace. Raikkonen started the day with the eleventh best time in SS2, before posting two tenths and then ending the loop with a ninth best effort in SS5.

"We are trying to find our rhythm," explained Kimi's co-driver, Kaj Lindstrom. "Hirvonen's car didn't cause any problems to us. The road is quite soft so I think the boys at the front have the best advantage."

Of the rest, Khalid Al-Qassimi and four-time WRC champion Juha Kankkunen are ninth and tenth respectively, the latter losing a position on the leaderboard after he picked up a 10 second penalty for a jump start.

Still it was a more than respectable performance from the 51-year-old, who began his professional rallying career at Rally Finland way back in 1979, but who has not competed on this hugely-popular event since 2002.

"I'm being quite careful and spending some time finding the correct braking points - there's no point trying any circuit tricks here," Kankkunen noted. "Perhaps the ride height is slightly too low but I think we will keep the same set up this afternoon as the car feels good generally.

"The engine hasn't changed on the new generation WRC cars but the handling are braking are very different. I'm slowly coming back and getting used to the car but it may take some time - the difference between today's cars and the cars eight years ago is like the difference between day and night."

In the SWRC, Jari Ketomaa still holds P1 in his Ford Fiesta S2000, 1.3 seconds up on Juho Hanninen's Skoda Fabia S2000. There was also no change in the PWRC, with Juha Salo still at the head of the class, albeit with his lead now increased to 14.7 seconds.

The opening leg now continues at 13.58 hours local time, before the first day concludes with a repeat run through the 4.19 km Laajavuori test.

Rally Finland: Overall standings after Stage 5 (Top 10):

1. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC 35mins 34.7secs A8
2. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 01.3secs M
3. Dani Sordo Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +00mins 05.1secs M
4. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 11.8secs M
5. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 18.9secs M
6. Henning Solberg Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +00mins 23.0secs M
7. Matthew Wilson Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +01mins 04.5secs M
8 Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +01mins 31.6secs M
9. Khalid Al-Qassimi BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +01mins 38.6secs A8
10. Juha Kankkunen Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +01mins 45.3secs A8

SWRC Standings after Stage 5 (Top 3):

1. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta S2000 37mins 25.7secs S
2. Juho Hanninen Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 01.3secs S
3. Matti Rantanen Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 24.0secs S

PWRC Standings after Stage 5 (Top 3):

1. Juha Salo Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 38mins 24.7secs P
2. Ott Tanak Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +00mins 14.7secs P
3. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza STi +00mins 50.7secs P

Notable retirements:

SS4. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC Crashed. M

all times unofficial


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