Sebastian Loeb will lead into the first full day of Rally Finland after emerging from the opening three stages of the event with the early lead.

The Citroen driver will take a lead of 2.8secs into Friday's stages but will be forced to sweep the road for the pack behind having topped the times from the second stage, where he moved into the lead of the event. The fastest time on the final short stage of the evening allowed him to slightly extend his lead over his team-mate.

Jari-Matti Latvala leads the Ford challenge following the opening evening and will start Friday's stages 4.4secs off the lead in third place, the 26-year-old employing tactics to slow towards the end of the second stage to give him a better position in the running order for day two.

"During the second stage the team sent a message into the car giving me a target time to ensure I was third in the start order tomorrow," he said. "I slowed down towards the finish to make sure I achieved that target and the plan worked perfectly. I'm happy with my position for the morning.

"I was cautious on the opening stage and made a couple of small mistakes on the final test but nothing that cost time. All I'm concentrating on is tomorrow as I don't want to put extra pressure on myself, because this rally brings enough of that already. There was great excitement and pressure before the start, but now the event is under way I can relax and focus on my driving."

However, Latvala has already been left to fly the flag for Ford in terms of victory after team-mate Mikko Hirvonen lost time with an off-road excursion on the opening stage after his Fiesta's engine died.

The resultant damage forced him to carry out running repairs after stage two before he eventually returned to service more than two minutes off the pace down in 36th place.

"The engine died midway through a fast, fifth gear left corner and without any drive the car slid wide and the rear right hit a tree," Hirvonen said. "The impact damaged the brakes and suspension. Those issues caused more problems in the next stage and about 5km from the finish, the brake calliper jammed between the wheel and the damper. The wheel dragged all the way to the end, puncturing the tyre.

"It's disappointing because it's the second year in a row that I've had problems early in my home rally, although last year was due to a crash. I wanted to fight for a win and after a strong test last week, I felt that was something I could achieve. All I can do now is drive flat out through the final two days and see how far I can climb back up the order."

Fourth overnight after a stunning start to the event is Finnish driver Jari Ketomaa, who made light of his lack of experience with his Ford Fiesta RS WRC to lead after the opening test before backing off to improve his chances on day two, with Petter Solberg's Citroen and the MINI of Dani Sordo - the Spaniard having been second quickest behind former team-mate Loeb on stage two.

"It was good today and I am really happy with these first three stages," he said. "The balance of the car was really good. It is really nice to drive these stages in the MINI, because it was very easy. We will see what happens tomorrow as we have some new stages. We had a very small problem with a communication between me and Carlos on the first stage, but that was not a problem at all."

SWRC leader Ott Tanak is an impressive seventh in his S2000 Fiesta, with Mads Ostberg, Kris Meeke and Juho Hanninen rounding out the top ten.

Elsewhere, Henning Solberg, Matthew Wilson, Kimi Raikkonen and Evgeny Novikov all run inside the top 15 after the opening loop with the only driver in WRC machinery to hit problems being Matti Rantanen, who went off the road in his MINI on stage two having been sixth after stage one.

Rally Finland: Overall standings after Stage 3 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 20mins 17.5secs M
2. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 02.8secs M
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 04.4secs M
4. Jari Ketomaa HJ-Autotalo.com Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 07.0secs
5. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 12.6secs M
6. Dani Sordo Mini WRT John Cooper Works +00mins 14.3secs M
7. Ott Tanak Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 17.3secs S
8. Mads Ostberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 18.6secs M
9. Kris Meeke Mini WRT John Cooper Works +00mins 20.9secs M
10. Juho Hanninen Red Bull Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 25.8secs S

Others:

11. Henning Solberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 31.5secs
12. Matthew Wilson M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 32.8secs M
13. Kimi Raikkonen ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 35.3secs M
15. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 44.5secs
16. Dennis Kuipers FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 58.5secs M
18. PG Andersson Subaru Impreza R4 +01mins 06.8secs
19. Joonas Lindroos VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +01mins 08.7secs
22. Andreas Mikkelsen VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +01mins 14.6secs
26. Armindo Araujo Motorsport Italia Mini John Cooper Works +01mins 27.1secs
29. Khalid Al-Qassimi Team Abu Dhabi Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 31.7secs M
31. Mattias Therman Mini John Cooper Works +01mins 43.1secs
36. Mikko Hirvonen Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 02.7secs M
38. Daniel Oliveira Brazil WRT Mini John Cooper Works +02mins 07.6secs M

SWRC standings after Stage 3 (Top 3):

1. Ott Tanak Ford Fiesta S2000 20mins 34.8secs S
2. Juho Hanninen Red Bull Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 08.5secs S
3. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 21.6secs S

PWRC standings after Stage 3 (Top 3):

1. Jarkko Nikara Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 21mins 31.2secs P
2. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza WRX STi +00mins 00.5secs P
3. Hayden Paddon Subaru Impreza WRX STi +00mins 13.1secs P

Notable retirements:

SS2. Matti Rantanen Mini John Cooper Works Off the road

all times unofficial