Sebastien Loeb managed to increase his lead ever so slightly on the middle loop of Rally Finland, although team-mate Mikko Hirvonen remains a real threat.

Loeb saw his overnight cushion cut from 7.3 seconds to 4.4 seconds after SS4 and SS5 this morning and while Hirvonen won two of the three stages on the second loop, a storming time in SS7, ensured the Frenchman stayed top. Seb now heads back to the rally base in Jyv?skyl? for service D with a 5 second advantage.

"I'm trying to keep the position. Mikko found a fast rhythm today. I made some small mistakes but I think this one [SS7] went better than the previous one [SS6]," Loeb remarked.

Loeb also later confirmed that he had a problem with the rear diff in SS8 and feared he might not be able to complete the stage at one point...

"The car was handling a little strangely [in SS8] and I had to really pay attention to stay on the road!" Seb continued. "For the moment though, we seem to be heading towards a two-way scrap between Mikko and myself. The other guys aren't far behind, but we all know how difficult it is to close the gaps here."

"It went well this morning, but I am going to have to push even harder if I want to stop Sebastien from extending his lead," Hirvonen commented. "I know he'll respond to my attacks, but I have to go even quicker. Everything is still to play for, we mustn't panic and just need to hang in there."

Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile now heads the Ford challenge in third, 2.8 seconds up on team-mate, Petter Solberg, although both are continuing to lose time to the Citroens ahead: "I'm trying my best but it is not happening," Latvala admitted. "It just doesn't stay on the ground well enough."

"Loeb is going fast - he seems to have more than the others," Solberg added. "I still have to keep pushing; I can't do anything else."

Mads Ostberg rounds out the top five, with Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak sixth and seventh respectively: "We are trying to push hard but I don't want to push more - it is a bit on the edge. I want to catch time and not lose it," said Ostberg, who was fifth quickest in all three stages.

Behind, Jari Ketomaa continues to struggle with a misfiring engine, while Matti Rantanen and Martin Prokop complete the top ten.

Of the rest, Chris Atkinson's hopes of a points finish disappeared on SS8, when the Aussie misheard a pace-note and went off the road. He had been running eighth overall, but lost over 16 minutes as a result of his mistake.

Evgeny Novikov managed to get back to service after rolling his Ford Fiesta RS WRC car in SS5 and is continuing to run, albeit now way down and almost 30 minutes adrift of P1.

In the support categories, Esapekka Lappi is way out front in the SWRC after Hayden Paddon was forced to retire with engine problems. P-G Andersson is his nearest rival, 53.4 seconds back. As for the WRC Academy, Elfyn Evans heads the pack, and like Lappi, has a comfortable lead.

Day two of Rally Finland now continues with a repeat-run through the middle loop of stages. The day then concludes with a run through the short Killeri SSS.

Rally Finland: Overall standings after Stage 8 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 55mins 33.4secs M
2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 05.0secs M
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 15.1secs M
4. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 17.9secs M
5. Mads Ostberg Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 29.7secs M
6. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 36.5secs M
7. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 08.3secs M
8. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 55.5secs
9. Matti Rantanen Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 58.9secs
10. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 22.7secs


11. Sebastien Ogier VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +02mins 48.4secs
12. Esapekka Lappi Ford Fiesta S2000 +02mins 51.4secs S
13. Andreas Mikkelsen VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +03mins 29.9secs
14. Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 33.6secs
15. P-G Andersson Proton Satria Neo S2000 +03mins 44.8secs S

SWRC standings after Stage 8 - Top 3:

1. Esapekka Lappi Ford Fiesta S2000 58mins 24.8secs S
2. P-G Andersson Proton Satria Neo S2000 +00mins 53.4secs S
3. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 55.6secs S

Notable retirements:

SS5. Hayden Paddon Skoda Fabia S2000 Engine S

all times unofficial