World Rally Championship leader Sebastien Ogier has set himself up for victory number five of the 2013 season - provided he can avoid the sort of pitfalls that only seemed to strike at his rivals on day two of Rally Finland.

The Volkswagen team leader had been second to Thierry Neuville overnight, briefly took the lead before once again settling in behind a Ford as Mads Ostberg took the morning spoils as day two opened with the first running of the Jukoj?rvi, Palsankyl?, M?kkiper? and Lankamaa stages. When the return run started, however, Ogier was able to make his move as the roads began to take their toll.

Having trailed by just 0.8secs, being fastest through Jukoj?rvi 2 by 4.6secs was comfortably enough to move the points leader to the head of the field, and acing the remaining four tests - including the short superspecial at Killeri - was enough to cement his position. However, it was the misfortune around him that proved the catalyst to turning his previous deficit into a 38.1secs advantage heading into the third and final day.

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"Today was great for us," Ogier noted, "We put our foot down, but did not push ourselves right to the very limit. The roads were very rough and difficult, particularly in the afternoon. The risk of getting a puncture was simply too great for an unconditional attack. Picking up points towards the world championship is obviously the top priority, but I want to try to fulfil my dream of winning the Rally Finland for the first time.

"More than 30 seconds is really a good lead over the second-placed driver, but the rally still has a long way to go. This is particularly true as the legendary Ouninpohja special stage still awaits us twice tomorrow - for me, the absolute highlight of this weekend. I can hardly wait to finally drive here in a World Rally Car...."

Having used the first pass of the stages to double check his notes, losing his lead as a result, Neuville, in particular, suffered in the early afternoon stages, lamenting a lack of torque in Palsankyl? 2 before then suffering a puncture after a hard landing in M?kkiper?. That incident alone cost him 15secs to Ogier, but he was able to regain third in the overall classification when Mikko Hirvonen suffered his own problems a stage later, and the moved back into the role as chief pursuer to the leader with another strong showing through Lankamaa, where Ostberg took his turn to be the victim of the ruts. Consolidating on the superspecial was enough to secure Neuville P2 by 0.9secs.

"Today has been a good day," the Belgian insisted, "I think I was sleeping a little bit in the first stage but, once I found the rhythm, I felt really confident, especially this afternoon. Then we got a puncture on SS13....

"When we landed a jump, the tyre came off the rim and we had to slow down a bit. It was a shame, but this is rallying and sometimes these things happen. Of course, I want to fight to stay on the podium tomorrow, but it will be a really difficult day. On Ouninpohja last year, we lost a minute-and-a-half to the fastest drivers and I think it will be difficult for us again this year. If we are still on the podium tomorrow night, I think it will be another great result for us - whether it's second, third or first, it doesn't matter."

Ostberg recovered from his SS13 mishap - which had prompted him to declare the event 'a lottery' - to hold to third overnight, comfortably ahead of Hirvonen. Things had looked good for the Qatar M-Sport WRT driver as he transformed third on day one into the lead at the halfway point of day two, but he had already shipped a twelve-second advantage to Ogier before Lankamaa, where a broken wheel rim left him with a deflated left front tyre and another 26secs leaking away with the air.

"I'm going to try and get second place back tomorrow, but Thierry has been going really well," Ostberg admitted, "It's a big fight, [and] I think we did a good job today - we pulled away from him in the morning and had a pretty good gap, but then we had a puncture on SS14 and the gap was back to practically nothing!

"I will definitely push tomorrow; I think, with what we have done today, second is certainly possible. But, honestly, without any problems - or punctures - for Sebastien, I think that is the best we can do this weekend."

Hirvonen's chances of passing the Norwegian were hampered by a near-terminal moment in M?kkiper? that saw the Citroen driver go off on a fifth-gear corner and hit the bank. The DS3 started to roll but decide on a 360-degree spin instead, allowing Hirvonen to make it to the end of the stage, where he could replace another damaged wheel. Thereafter, however, he remained spooked by the behaviour at the rear of the car, and had dropped over a minute off the pace by the end of Killeri 2.

"I ran wide on a corner in fifth gear and we hit an embankment," Hirvonen confirmed, "The car almost rolled onto the roof, but we were lucky to stay on all four wheels. We were thrown into a 360? spin and punctured two of the tyres. Fortunately, we had two spares.

"I did everything I could to try and make up the time, but we didn't really have much luck on our side. Staying positive, we have to consider ourselves lucky to still be in the race. There is still a long day to go tomorrow, so my aim is now to finish in the top three."

With Juho Hanninen forced out by suspension damage on SS9 and others, including Evgeny Novikov (contact with a woodpile on SS8), Martin Prokop (engine on SS11), Per-Gunnar Andersson (differential) and Andreas Mikkelsen (missing wheel on SS13) all eschewing the chance to make up ground on the frontrunners, it was Kris Meeke who ended the day rounding out the top five in his Citroen.

The Briton was not without his concerns - having both jammed his hand between the car's jack and door - but was more angry about the unnecessary delay he felt he had suffered after catching Novikov as the Russian recovered from his heavy contact with the felled remains of the Finnish forest. In no mood to pull over and let a faster car through - despite both wing mirrors remaining on his Ford - Novikov kept Meeke at bay to the end of the stage, potentially at the cost of around 30secs which, incidentally, is roughly what separate the Briton from Hirvonen in fourth place. Meeke's afternoon was highlighted by second place behind Ogier on both M?kkiper? 2 and the leg-ending superspecial, but he too nearly came unstuck on the ruts, having had the Citroen rear up on him in SS14.

"On SS8, I drove for about ten kilometres behind Novikov, who had gone off," the Briton fumed, "He wouldn't let me past and my windscreen got broken by the stones kicked up by his car. I also went off because I couldn't see properly through the windscreen, and picked up a puncture. Then, I injured my finger whilst I was changing the tyre. That's quite a bad run...

"We raised the ride height for the second runs and my DS3 WRC handled perfectly in the ruts. I drove pretty well, with the second fastest time on SS13, [so] it was a very good afternoon."

Jarkko Nikara, Dani Sordo - who briefly perked up on SS13, which he admits to knowing well - WRC2 leader Jari Ketomaa, the recovering Novikov and Mikkelsen now round out the top ten with eight stages remaining on Saturday. Robert Kubica, second in WRC2, is eleventh and Andersson, who had struggled with a differential problem that left him with two-wheel drive all morning had recovered to 13th. Jari-Matti Latvala, who rejoined after succumbing to problems on SS4, put in a couple of decent stage times to move up to 42nd overall, while Haninen also rejoined after his suspension problems but is currently outside the top 60. Elfyn Evans, erstwhile in the top three in WRC2, was forced to call it a day, however.

"We've had a few problems today, but we don't know exactly what the issue is," the Welshman sighed, "All we know for the moment is that the car stopped on the last of the four stages this morning. It is obviously very disappointing as the chassis and general feeling were very good. Jari [Ketomaa] has proven how competitive the car is, so it's disappointing not to be fighting for the top positions anymore."

Keith Cronin has assumed the lead of WRC following Alistair Fisher's retirement on stage eight, while Andreas Amberg is now the leading JWRC runner after Sander P?rn lost time and dropped back to sit second in class.

"Everything went very well today," Cronin concluded, "The stages were very fast and the feeling was fantastic! There is still quite a long way to go tomorrow and, although we have a good lead, we can't afford to stroll home to victory."

Rally Finland: Overall standings after Stage 15 (Top ten):

1. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 1hr 38m 34.7s M
2. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 38.1s M
3. Mads Ostberg Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 39.0s M
4. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +01m 01.4s M
5. Kris Meeke Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +01m 33.2s M
6. Jarkko Nikara MINI John Cooper Works WRC +02m 18.6s
7. Dani Sordo Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +02m 45.0s M
8. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta R5 +06m 13.9s WRC2
9. Evgeny Novikov Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +06m 38.5s M
10. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +07m 17.7s M


11. Robert Kubica Citroen DS3 RRC +07m 24.1s WRC2
12. Hayden Paddon Skoda Fabia S2000 +09m 19.1s WRC2
14. PG Andersson Ford Fiesta RS WRC +09m 54.6s

WRC2 standings after Stage 6 (Top 3):

1. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta R5 1hr 44m 48.6s WRC2
2. Robert Kubica Citroen DS3 RRC +01m 10.2s WRC2
3. Hayden Paddon Skoda Fabia S2000 +03m 05.2s WRC2

WRC3 standings after Stage 6 (Top 3):

1. Keith Cronin Citroen DS3 R3T 1hr 52m 36.9s WRC3
2. Sebastien Chardonnet Citroen DS3 R3T +01m 34.2s WRC3
3. Jussi Vainionp?? Citroen DS3 R3T +02m 00.3s WRC3

JWRC standings after Stage 6 (Top 3):

1. Andreas Amberg Ford Fiesta R2 1hr 57m 04.6s JWRC
2. Sander P?rn Ford Fiesta R2 +02m 06.8s JWRC
3. Pontus Tidemand Ford Fiesta R2 +03m 15.8s JWRC

Notable retirements:

After SS12 Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC engine M
After SS8 Alistair Fisher Citroen DS3 R3T mechanical WRC3
After SS10 Elfyn Evans Ford Fiesta R5 mechanical WRC2

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

all times unofficial