Thierry Neuville will take a slender lead into the second day of Rally Finland after successfully opening up an advantage during Thursday's afternoon loop.

The Qatar World Rally Team driver had shared the lead with championship leader Sebastien Ogier after the opening three tests of the 'Grand Prix of Finland' and although he moved away from the Frenchman on the repeat run through Torittu to kick-start the afternoon action, Neuville then found himself level-pegging with Mikko Hirvonen's Citroen after he went quickest on the stage.

However, the Belgian then went quicker than both Ogier and Hirvonen in wet conditions on SS5 and was fastest on the first run through the Killeri Super Special stage to give him a 5.2sec advantage going into Friday's nine stages, all of which - bar the second run through the Super Special - are longer than any tackled on day one.

"I never thought I would have such a good first day here, but the car has been really quick and the set-up was perfect which gave me a lot of confidence," Neuville said at the end of the day. "We had a good rhythm all day and I really enjoyed the driving.

"We didn't push too much - just followed the splits of Sebastien [Ogier] and Mikko [Hirvonen]. We were still trying to be clever and when it was tricky we backed off the pace. Obviously this strategy has worked well for us as we're leading the rally and set two fastest times!

"I guess we will struggle a little tomorrow because we won't have the best road position. But that's not to say I'm giving up. Not at all! We'll work on a good set-up in the morning, hope for sun, and try to be as fast as we possibly can."

Ogier will go into the second day as Neuville's closest challenger, despite losing time during an afternoon he referred to as 'one of the most boring I've done'.

The Frenchman had slipped back to third spot behind Hirvonen on SS4 and despite going back ahead of the Finn on the following stage, still went into the Super Special in the final podium position after Mads Ostberg jumped ahead with the quickest time in SS5.

However, Ogier edged back ahead on SS6 when a disappointing time from Ostberg saw him slip back to third.

"I am really happy to get that day behind us," Ogier admitted. "Spending almost ten hours in a car just for about 45 kilometres of special stage was, to be honest, a bit boring. Furthermore, this meant it was not so easy to get into a good rhythm. I sometimes wished I had a speedometer in the Polo R WRC on the liaison stages, as you could usually only drive 60 km/h.

"That aside, the day went ok for us. I did not drive perfectly, but we are not that far behind the leader. I held back a bit, as the afternoon rain had made some points extremely slippery. The Super Special Stage at the end was not particularly easy either. The rally does not really get going until tomorrow, when I will try find a better rhythm and improve from the word go."

Having set the pace in qualifying, Hirvonen ended the day in fourth place but was left angered by the way in which the fifth stage was run. Having moved left at the top on the previous test, Hirvonen lost 16 seconds when the group of four cars in which he was running encountered the worst of the wet conditions - dropping him back to fifth.

Hirvonen regained a place on the Super Special to go ahead of Juho Hanninen, who enjoyed a solid afternoon in his Ford and will go into day two just half a second clear of Kris Meeke's Citroen.

"The problem wasn't the rain in itself, but the fact that they decided to split the drivers challenging for the lead into different groups," Hirvonen said. "It's a serious error by the organisers, who have put business considerations ahead of sporting and safety considerations.

"Without this episode, I'm not saying I would be leading the rally, but I wouldn't be fourth, 13.8s behind the leader. It's far from over though, there are still two long days left to go. I'm going to have to push really hard to try and make up the time I lost today."

Despite running without a spare wheel in his car for much of the day after an early puncture, and taking it easy as a result, Meeke took a pair of top three stage times during the afternoon on his first outing in the Citroen DS3.

"It was a great day, although I'm annoyed that we picked up a puncture on SS2," he said. "I made a minor mistake which cost me six or seven seconds. On the following stages, I was very attentive and I drove in the middle of the road, because another puncture would have forced me to retire.

"Despite of all that, I set some good times. I feel so at home in the car, it's almost as if I'm part of it. I want to continue to show what I can do and drive an intelligent race!"

Evgeny Novikov, Andreas Mikkelsen, Dani Sordo and Jarkko Nikara round out the top ten although Jari-Matti Latvala's day ended in disappointment when he was forced to give up his bid to bring his damaged car back through the stages to service after SS4.

Latvala had been hemorrhaging time with damaged left-rear suspension after hitting a rock on the second stage of the day and is now set to restart on Friday down in 88th place - almost 20 minutes away from the top ten. Riku Tahko was the other WRC runner to hit major issues, dropping nearly 13 minutes in SS5 with a throttle problem on his MINI.

Jari Ketomaa continues to lead in WRC2 after extending his lead over the chasing pack during the afternoon, with former F1 racer Robert Kubica moving up from fourth to second.

Ketomaa takes a lead of 24secs into day two despite suffering a scare on the penultimate test of the leg.

"We were lucky, we were completely off the road," he said. "It was a huge moment and we were lucky to get back on. We almost had a spin and had the throttle open all the time to pull us out but we had no grip at all and slid in a ditch. We were lucky to get back on the road again."

Elfyn Evans meanwhile sits 2.0secs behind Kubica in third, with Alistair Fisher heading WRC3 and Sander P?rn on top in the JWRC.

Rally Finland: Overall standings after Stage 6 (Top ten):

1. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC 25m 33.3s M
2. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 05.2s M
3. Mads Ostberg Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 08.9s M
4. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 13.8s M
5. Juho Hanninen Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 17.0s
6. Kris Meeke Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00m 17.5s M
7. Evgeny Novikov Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 20.9s M
8. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +00m 23.4s M
9. Dani Sordo Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 37.1s M
10. Jarkko Nikara MINI John Cooper Works WRC +00m 47.7s


11. PG Andersson Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 52.4s
12. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 58.5s M
13. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta R5 +01m 21.3s WRC2
14. Robert Kubica Citroen DS3 RRC +01m 45.3s WRC2
15. Elfyn Evans Ford Fiesta R5 +01m 47.3s WRC2
17. Hayden Paddon Skoda Fabia S2000 +01m 51.1s WRC2
84. Riku Tahko MINI John Cooper Works WRC +13m 52.7s

WRC2 standings after Stage 6 (Top 3):

1. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta R5 26m 54.6s WRC2
2. Robert Kubica Citroen DS3 RRC +00m 24.0s WRC2
3. Elfyn Evans Ford Fiesta R5 +00m 26.0s WRC2

WRC3 standings after Stage 6 (Top 3):

1. Alistair Fisher Citroen DS3 R3T 28m 43.0s WRC3
2. Keith Cronin Citroen DS3 R3T +00m 09.2s WRC3
3. Jussi Vainionp?? Citroen DS3 R3T +00m 38.2s WRC3

JWRC standings after Stage 6 (Top 3):

1. Sander P?rn Ford Fiesta R2 29m 37.6s JWRC
2. Andreas Amberg Ford Fiesta R2 +00m 01.7s JWRC
3. Pontus Tidemand Ford Fiesta R2 +00m 05.0s JWRC

Notable retirements:

After SS4. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC Suspension M o

*denotes due to re-start under the Rally 2 regulations

all times unofficial