Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has pulled further ahead of Mikko Hirvonen as the battle for victory on Rally Finland heads towards its conclusion.
Loeb went into the repeat runs through Surkee and Leustu with a 7.4 second advantage over his team-mate, and after setting the pace in SS15 and setting the joint quickest time with Jari-Matti Latvala in SS16, he has increased that margin to 9.4 seconds.
“It went well,” Loeb said after SS15. “It was a bit rough in some places. I took a bit of time from Mikko. It's impossible to relax though and I have to keep pushing. I know Mikko won't give up. Nine seconds is good but we have to go flat out.”
Despite slipping back though, Hirvonen has vowed to keep on fighting as he bids to win on home soil.
"No team orders so we will keep the tension all the way until the end," he added. "Hopefully I can take some time from Seb on the first time on Ouninpohja but it is difficult. 9 seconds will be hard to take in 66 kms."
Behind, Latvala remains third for Ford, 25.4 seconds off Loeb and 16 seconds off Hirvonen, while Petter Solberg is fourth.
“I drove as fast as I could but I don't have the opportunity to catch the guys ahead on pace alone," Latvala admitted. "I'm relaxed today and happy with the car so I'll maintain a strong pace and see what happens during the last two long stages. We made some small improvements to the car and so it was a good morning.”
“I changed the settings for the opening stage to try to find the 'magic' set-up, but it didn't work," Solberg explained. "The car was too low and the sump guard was hitting the road, so I changed it back.”
Ott Tanak meanwhile has moved up to fifth, after Mads Ostberg was slowed by a mechanical problem in SS16 and was left with front-wheel drive only. Ostberg lost over 40 seconds as a result and now trails Tanak by 2.1 seconds.
"About eight kilometres before the end of the last stage [SS16], the propshaft came lose on a fast section and we lost rear-wheel drive," Ostberg said. "But the worst thing was that the propshaft itself was banging around in the tunnel. I was getting very worried that it might come through so I look it very steady for a while. Then I tried to increase the speed a bit more – even though we only had front-wheel drive I didn't want to lose too much. We came through, but we lost a lot of time so we need to gain that back now."
Matti Rantanen also gained a place on the middle loop, with a front left puncture in SS15 costing Jari Ketomaa, who drops from seventh to eighth. Martin Prokop and Sebastien Ogier complete the top ten, the latter currently on course for the final drivers' point.
In the support categories, Craig Breen has retaken the SWRC lead, with P-G Andersson slipping back after breaking a driveshaft in Leustu 1. As for the WRC Academy, Elfyn Evans remains on course for a dominant win.
Rally Finland now concludes with two runs through the famous 33.01 kilometre Ouninpohja test. Ouninpohja 1 will start at 15.37 hours local time [13.37 hours UK time], while the second run through starts at 18.00 hours local time [16.00 hours UK time].
Rally Finland: Overall standings after Stage 16 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 1hour 57mins 23.9secs
2. Mikko Hirvonen
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 09.4secs
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 25.4secs
4. Petter Solberg
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 45.4secs
5. Ott Tanak
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 01.7secs
6. Mads Ostberg
Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 03.8secs
7. Matti Rantanen
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 02.2secs
8. Jari Ketomaa
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 32.8secs
9. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 44.6secs
10. Sebastien Ogier
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +07mins 04.9secs
11. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta S2000 +08mins 06.8secs
12. P-G Andersson
Proton Satria Neo S2000 +08mins 20.1secs
SWRC standings after Stage 16 - Top 3:
1. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta S2000 2hours 05mins 30.7secs
2. P-G Andersson
Proton Satria Neo S2000 +00mins 13.3secs
3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi
Ford Fiesta RRC +02mins 45.1secs
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
SS14. Ken Block
Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Went off the road
* denotes re-started under Rally 2
all times unofficial