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Friday midday wrap: Loeb heads the pack in Finland

A small advantage over Ogier

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By www.wrc.com

29 July 2011 - 12:25
Friday midday wrap: Loeb heads the (...)

Sebastien Loeb has completed the opening three stages on day two of Neste Oil Rally Finland 2.8s clear of Citroen team-mate Sebastien Ogier.

With Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala still firmly in contention 9.4s behind Loeb, a thrilling three-way fight for victory is in prospect on the world championship’s fastest rally.

Loeb, who heads the WRC drivers’ standings by 17 points, was second best to Ogier on Friday’s first test but hit back by beating his young rival on the very next stage. However, he was unable to avoid losing time on stage six due to the loose surface gravel he encountered running first on the road.

“I’m pushing very hard and I’m on the limit everywhere,” said Loeb. “It is the only way because it’s a big fight with Sebastien [Ogier].”

Latvala was frustrated after dropping time on stages four and five due to a lack of traction but was far happier with his run on stage six as he bids to win the high-speed rally for a second year in a row.

Jari Ketomaa said he’s struggling for rear grip in his privateer Fiesta. As a result the Finn has slipped from his overnight fourth position to fifth behind Petter Solberg in a privateer Citroen. Solberg has spent much of the morning working to develop an optimum set-up.

Mads Ostberg is sixth in his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta after surviving a spin on stage six. The Norwegian is now just 4.6s in front of Spaniard Dani Sordo.

Sordo’s progress at the wheel of his MINI John Cooper Works WRC has been hampered by a misfire throughout the morning to the extent his team-mate Kris Meeke, who continues to avoid taking any risks to ensure a strong finish, is just eight seconds behind.

Mikko Hirvonen, who is battling to make up the two minutes he dropped following his off-road moment on Thursday evening, has been fastest on all three stages this morning in his Fiesta. However, his delay on day one means he’s more than 1m46s adrift of top spot.

Ex-Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen and M-Sport Stobart driver Matthew Wilson both endured major scares on stage six. They are 11th and 14th respectively.

Russian Evgeny Novikov is 12th and intent on avoiding making any mistakes in his Fiesta. Fellow Fiesta driver Henning Solberg is 2.4s further back in 13th position.

Skoda Fabia driver Juho Hanninen has moved into the lead of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship category after beating Estonian Fiesta pilot Ott Tanak on Friday’s opening trio of stages. Tanak, who had led on Thursday night, blamed part of his time loss on a “big mistake” close to the start of stage four. Hanninen is up to ninth in the overall standings with Tanak dropping down to 10th.

In the fight for Production Car World Rally Championship glory, overnight leader Jarkko Nikara has dropped out of contention after rolling on stage four following a braking issue. Patrik Flodin now heads the class in his Subaru Impreza, 13.4s ahead of joint championship leader Hayden Paddon.

The WRC Academy drivers completed stage four as a road section after the stage was halted when Oleksandr Saliuk crashed heavily in his Mitsubishi Lancer. After stage five, overnight leader Alastair Fisher has maintained his advantage in his Fiesta R2.

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