Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala has taken the lead on Rally Finland on Friday repeat's loop, overhauling team-mate Sebastien Ogier in SS8.
Latvala had gone into the mid-day regroup 5.3 seconds adrift of Ogier, but trimmed his lead in SS6 and SS7, before taking a massive 5.4s out of the Frenchman in SS8, Ouninpohja 2, when he notched up his second stage win of the day and the 400th of his WRC career.
The Finn then posted another fastest time in SS9 and will now go into the leg ending 2.27km Harju 2 super special with a 3.1s advantage.
“We had a good feeling,” Latvala said after SS9. “We had a really, really nice feeling in Ouninpohja [too], it is nice to continue that here. I have never been so comfortable in Ouninpohja, as I have today. It has really given me confidence.
“We will just keep calm now and continue working precisely.”
Meanwhile, Ogier said the repeat loop was difficult for him due to all the gravel pulled out by the national rally competitors: “It is not easy,” he confirmed. “All of this loop I have been in the loose [gravel] of the national rally competitors.
“I am happy though, I have done my best.”
Kris Meeke remains third for Citroen in his DS 3 WRC, and despite a niggling technical issue, was quickest in SS7 and third in SS8 and SS9. He is now 23.1s adrift of the fight at the front, however, having picked up a 10s penalty for arriving a minute late for the SS9 time control.
“Considering our little issue, it is not bad,” Meeke remarked. “This stage [SS9] is our Achilles heel. I didn't want to take too many risks. But okay, overall, it was a good day.”
Mads Ostberg holds fourth in the sister DS 3 WRC, just 9.9s back, while Thierry Neuville completes the top five for Hyundai, albeit over 1 minute adrift.
“Today has been a good day,” said Ostberg, who peaked with two third best times. “The speed has been very nice so I'm pleased with how it has been going in the stages. I think we'll stay on the same plan. It's working.”
Neuville, who has been trying to rebuild his confidence after his crash in the pre-event shakedown, reported a major moment at the end of SS9: “I nearly rolled the car on the last corner, the ruts are so deep it jumped the car onto two wheels,” he explained. “It was quite tough in there.”
Behind, team-mate Dani Sordo holds sixth in his i20 WRC, just 2.9s back and despite issues with the exhaust.
Juho Hanninen and Martin Prokop are seventh and eighth in their privately entered Fiesta RS WRC cars, with WRC2 class leader Esapekka Lappi ninth and M-Sport's Ott Tanak tenth, having had to limp through the day after hitting a rock in SS3 and breaking the front-left damper.
Elfyn Evans has similarly had to nurse his car through most of the day, a consequence of damaging his suspension in SS4. He lies 20th after SS9.
As for retirements, Andreas Mikkelsen, Robert Kubica and Hayden Paddon were the most notable casualties. Mikkelsen and Paddon both suffered big crashes, the former in SS5 and the latter in SS6. Kubica was unable to start SS6 due to mechanical problems.
The day now concludes with the Harju 2 super special, the same test that kicked off the action on Thursday.
Full itinerary for round eight in WRC 2015 available - HERE
2015 Rally Finland: Overall standings after Stage 9 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 1hr 14m 35.3s
2. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 03.1s
3. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 23.1s
4. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 33.0s
5. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 48.6s
6. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 51.5s
7. Juho Hanninen
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 19.3s
8. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 45.2s
9. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia R5 +3m 14.1s
10. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 28.6s
11. Pontus Tidemand
Skoda Fabia R5 +4m 23.8s
12. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen DS 3 RRC +4m 58.2s
13. Lorenzo Bertelli
FWRT SRL Ford Fiesta RS WRC +5m 00.7s
14. Jarkko Nikara
Ford Fiesta R5 +5m 54.4s
WRC2 standings after Stage 9 (Top 3):
1. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia R5 1hr 17m 49.4s
2. Pontus Tidemand
Skoda Fabia R5 +1m 09.7s
3. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen DS 3 RRC +1m 44.1s
SS5. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC Crashed
SS5/6. Robert Kubica
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Mechanical
SS5/6. Craig Breen
Peugeot 208 T16 Engine
SS6. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC Crashed
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial