With just 4.4s between them after SS5, Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen more or less matched each other in the next three stages. The Finn is now 5s behind the eight-time World Champion.
Following Friday’s first two stages and a 30-minute midday service period, the crews set off to complete their first runs on the Mökkiperä, Palsankylä and Lankamaa stages.
Quickest on SS6 by just eight tenths of a second, Mikko Hirvonen cut the deficit to 3.8s. Sébastien Loeb hit back immediately, however, to set the fastest time on SS7. Predictably enough, the man from Jyväskylä then responded to win SS8.
Still leading the rally, Sébastien Loeb admitted being concerned by overheating in the rear differential, caused by the loss of a cap and oil loss: “The car was handling a little strangely and I had to really pay attention to stay on the road! For the moment, we seem to be heading towards a two-way scrap between Mikko and myself. The other guys aren’t far behind, but we all know how difficult it is to close the gaps here.”
“It went well this morning, but I am going to have to push even harder if I want to stop Sébastien from extending his lead,” noted Mikko. “I know he’ll respond to my attacks, but I have to go even quicker. Everything is still to play for, we mustn’t panic and just need to hang in there.”
Sixth overall and trailing those ahead of him by just a few seconds, Thierry Neuville continued to produce impressive performances at his first Rally Finland. “Things are still going well. I’m a bit surprised by my times,” admitted the Citroën Junior World Rally Team driver. “Obviously, there are some corners where I get the feeling I’m losing time. At these speeds, it’s sometimes difficult to know if you can go flat out or not!”
Chris Atkinson lost 16 minutes on SS8 when he went off after mishearing one of the pace notes. The Qatar World Rally Team mechanics managed to repair the no.7 DS3 WRC, enabling the Australian to continue the rally.
The day continues with second runs on the Mökkiperä, Palsankylä and Lankamaa stages. The first competitors are due to start arriving back at the service park at 8pm.