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 Jyväskylä 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.