Sebastien Loeb has finished day two of Rally Finland at the head of the pack after the top-three runners all employed tactics in the final stage, leaving them split by just 2.6 seconds.
Loeb maintained his overnight advantage this morning, but on the afternoon loop slipped behind his team-mate, Sebastien Ogier in SS9. The 37-year-old then slipped further back in SS10 and started the final test 1.9 seconds adrift.
However in a bid to avoid having to run first on the road tomorrow, he checked in late at the start of SS11, thus incurring a 10-second penalty. Ogier however opted to slow in Mynnila to again slot in behind the Frenchman and with Jari-Matti Latvala adopting the same tactics, Loeb was handed back the lead.
The record breaking multiple WRC champion will now start on Saturday with a 1.5 second advantage - but crucially will have to sweep away the loose gravel, leaving Ogier and Latvala in second and third respectively both potentially better placed to win.
“We tried to do something to sow doubt in our rivals' minds,” Loeb explained. “It didn't work, but it hasn't really made our task a lot more difficult. We've still got a long leg to do. Since the start we've managed to match the pace of our rivals even though we're first out on the road. I just hope that I won't have to do even more sweeping tomorrow on the very dry stages.”
“I wanted a gap of no more than 10sec to the leader so the margin I have is ideal,” Latvala added. “I'm not a massive fan of tactics like this but it was exciting tonight and the team did a great job, for which I thank them. I know tomorrow's stages well and I'm so much looking forward to what I hope will be a great day.”
Petter Solberg meanwhile is fourth, albeit more than 30 seconds off the lead in his privately entered Citroen DS3 WRC.
“Today has been okay,” said Petter. “Nothing special to report, I have been pushing all day. Did some changes to the set up at midday service, but that did not work out. Will continue to try tomorrow. Have to mention that the atmosphere out on the stages is really good, so many people!”
Next up is M-Sport Stobart Ford man Mads Ostberg, a further 30 seconds back, followed by the recovering Mikko Hirvonen, who has charged back up from 36th this morning to sixth, having won five of the days eight stages.
“Today's stages were probably the easiest of the three legs and I'm pleased with my speed,” said Hirvonen. “I can't catch the top three drivers on pace alone, but I would like to catch Mads Ostberg for fifth. I decided not to think about yesterday. It happened, and today I just wanted to drive as fast as I could and see how high I could climb.