Sebastien Loeb has finished day two of Rally Finland in the lead, although team-mate Mikko Hirvonen is not far behind and could yet challenge, assuming Citroen continue to let them battle it out.
Loeb took the lead yesterday and began with a 7.3 second advantage. However while there has been little to choose between the two works DS3 WRC men, Mikko has nibbled away at that margin and following the penultimate test of the day, had cut the gap to just 3 seconds. Disappointingly though for the Finn, he lost 2 seconds in the short Killeri SSS, and the gap is now back up to 5 seconds.
“It will be a long final day. In our situation we have to fight, but we have to do it correctly. It will be a hard battle," Loeb said.
“There is still time to fight and it will be a big fight,” Hirvonen agreed. “We could not get past Seb today, but little by little we've taken some time out of him.”
Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile is on course for the final spot on the podium, albeit 20.3 seconds off Loeb and 15.3 off P2: “I'm disappointed. The car is good but there is something Citroen can do better than us,” Latvala lamented. “Hopefully we can come up with something for tomorrow.”
Behind, Petter Solberg is right up with his Ford team-mate and remarkably after two days of competition, just 1.1 seconds splits them: “We will have to go wild in order to succeed now. But there is still a long way to go,” he added.
Mads Ostberg rounds out the top-five for the Adapta WRT, over 25 seconds off the two Fords ahead. Ott Tanak then comes in sixth, 50 seconds further back, with Jari Ketomaa seventh, despite struggling for much of the day with a misfiring engine.
Matti Rantanen, Martin Prokop and Ken Block round out the provisional points scorers, the latter 10.9 seconds up on Sebastien Ogier's Volkswagen Motorsport-run Skoda Fabia S2000.
In the support categories, Craig Breen heads the SWRC and is 12th overall, 3.7 seconds up on P-G Andersson, while Elfyn Evans holds top spot in the WRC Academy.
As for retirements, day two claimed a number of notable scalps, including Chris Atkinson and Thierry Neuville. Neuville had been fighting for fifth, when he rolled in the penultimate stage. Atkinson was also looking good to score, until rolling in SS8. He then hit a rock in SS9 and retired after the test with suspension damage. Evgeny Novikov was another to put his car on its roof, rolling twice in SS5. He could continue however, even if he had lost over 25 minutes.
The event now concludes on Saturday, the longest day of the event, with 139.80 competitive kilometres and six stages in total on the bill. SS13, Surkee 1, is scheduled to start tomorrow at 07.56 hours local time [05.56 hours UK time].
Rally Finland: Overall standings after Stage 12 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 1hour 20mins 30.4secs
2. Mikko Hirvonen
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 05.0secs
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 20.3secs
4. Petter Solberg
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 21.4secs
5. Mads Ostberg
Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 47.7secs
6. Ott Tanak
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 36.4secs
7. Jari Ketomaa
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 28.3secs
8. Matti Rantanen
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 47.4secs
9. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 18.4secs
10. Ken Block
Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 47.0secs
11. Sebastien Ogier
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +04mins 57.9secs
12. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta S2000 +05mins 33.1secs
13. P-G Andersson
Proton Satria Neo S2000 +05mins 36.8secs
SWRC standings after Stage 12 - Top 3:
1. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta S2000 1hour 26mins 03.5secs
2. P-G Andersson
Proton Satria Neo S2000 +00mins 03.7secs
3. Juha Salo
Proton Satria Neo S2000 +01mins 10.9secs
SS5. Hayden Paddon
Skoda Fabia S2000 Engine
SS9/SS10. Chris Atkinson
Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC Hit a rock
SS10. Paulo Nobre
WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC Went off the road
SS11. Thierry Neuville
Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC Rolled
all times unofficial