Mads Ostberg has edged ahead on Rally Finland after four dramatic stages on Friday morning saw the Ford driver take a slender lead over championship leader Sebastien Ogier.
The Qatar M-Sport WRT driver sat third overnight but moved into top spot when he went second fastest behind Mikko Hirvonen's Citroen
on the opening test of the day.
Although he then slipped behind Ogier on the following stage, the fastest time on the penultimate test of the morning gave the Norwegian an advantage he was then able to hold onto after the first run through Lankamaa; the longest test tackled by crews so far this weekend.
“There has been a really good battle today and I think we have done a good job so far," Ostberg said. "We've been quite relaxed and have just been really enjoying the driving. The speed has also been very good so I am pleased with that. It is one of the closest battles that I can remember in a long time!
“At the moment, we are on the safe side and not taking any big risks. But I understand that if I want to keep up with [Sébastien] Ogier, and really fight for this victory, then I might have to find a bit more. At the moment I am losing a bit of time whenever I am in doubt and we're backing off the pace a bit too much.
“We will see this afternoon if we need to change that or if we can continue how we have been. We have more speed to give, it's just a case of whether we need to use it.”
The time lost to stage winner Ogier – who admitted he was driving with one eye on the championship – on SS10 enabled the Volkswagen man to close to within 0.8secs of the lead ahead of the afternoon loop, which features a return run through the four morning stages and a second blast through the short Killeri Super Special test.
Having lost time on the opening day, Hirvonen moved up to third place with a solid morning despite raising concerns about his pacenotes, while overnight leader Thierry Neuville was unable to maintain his position out front as he slipped down to fourth.
“We took it steadily this morning so it's good to see that we're not too far off the pace," he said. "I was much more careful than I was yesterday – making sure the pacenotes were right and also lacking a bit of confidence on the slippery stages this morning.