Thierry Neuville's hopes of returning to challenge for the lead of Rally Finland have been dealt a cruel blow after the Belgian suffered a puncture on the short SS13.

The Ford driver had led the event by five seconds overnight but, having been overhauled by Mads Ostberg, Sebastien Ogier and Mikko Hirvonen by the end of the first loop of stages, he then suffered two mishaps in as many stages midway through the afternoon loop.

"I don't think I could do better in this stage," he said at the end of SS12, having lost more ground, "I was flat out everywhere but, sometimes, I couldn't hold the steering in the ruts. I should have more torque, [and] I think Sebastien has more from torque from his engine."

Related Articles

Worse was to come on the return to Mokkipera, however, as a puncture sustained in the early part of the 13.74km stage saw him taking nearly 15secs more than the fastest time posted by Ogier.

"It happened after a big jump on the landing near the start of the stage," he said of the front-left deflation, "But that's rallying."

Now 32.2secs behind Ogier in the overall classification, Neuville is at least still ahead of Hirvonen, having overhauled the Finn as he had a moment SS12.

"I went off on a fifth-gear corner and hit the bank," he said, having brought his car to the end with its left front tyre off the rim, "It started to roll but, luckily, I just did a 360 spin in fourth gear."

With the tyre replaced, Hirvonen hoped to be able to recoup some of the time lost during SS13, but admitted that the Citroen was still not handling to his liking.

"The rear damper or something is broken on the right rear and it's quite difficult to drive," he suggested, "I think I damaged the rear suspension as well...."

Elsewhere, the opening loop row between Kris Meeke and Evgeny Novikov has now been referred to the event stewards, as the Briton attempts to win back some of the time he lost while stuck behind the Russian's damaged car in SS8.