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Mikko Hirvonen was fastest through this evening's Rally Finland qualifying stage to spark early celebrations among his home town fans in the rally base of Jyvaskyla.

Hirvonen was quickest through the 4.62km Ruuhimaki stage in a Citroen DS3 by 0.248sec from championship leader Sebastien Ogier’s Volkswagen Polo R. A surprise third was Thierry Neuville in a Ford Fiesta RS, 0.437sec adrift of Hirvonen.

Under cloudy skies and humid conditions, Hirvonen admitted at the stage finish that fastest time left him with a tough decision to make later this evening regarding his start position.

“It was an OK stage, but it could have been better,” said the 2009 Rally Finland winner. “I have no idea about what road position to choose, so I don’t know if it was good to be fastest here or not.”

Ogier was unperturbed at being beaten by Hirvonen. “It’s a very fast road and although the stage went OK, I didn’t have the perfect feeling with the suspension. But qualifying in Finland isn’t as important as it is on other rallies,” said the Frenchman.

There was no disguising the fire in Neuville’s belly. “I really want to fight this weekend,” said the Belgian. “The stage was perfect but I nearly stalled on the start line. I don’t know how much time I lost but then I pushed to the maximum.”

Evgeny Novikov was fourth in a Fiesta RS, while Jari-Matti Latvala was only fifth in the second Polo R. The Finn had to contend with some padding in the car’s footwell, which had fallen from the area between the roll cage and his seat but he refused to use that as an excuse.

"I was a bit too cautious, especially in the narrow section, where I braked too early for a couple of corners," said Latvala.

Andreas Mikkelsen rounded off the top six, which was covered by less than a second.  The Norwegian felt his Polo R was losing traction at the rear in right hand corners while Mads Ostberg believed his Fiesta RS collected a puncture just 200 metres after the start. He was seventh.

The full qualifying stage times were:

1. Mikko Hirvonen 2min 15.516sec
2. Sebastien Ogier + 0.248
3. Thierry Neuville + 0.437
4. Evgeny Novikov + 0.500
5. Jari-Matti Latvala + 0.742
6. Andreas Mikkelsen + 0.974
7. Mads Ostberg + 1.361
8. Juho Hanninen + 1.417
9. Kris Meeke + 1.835
10. Dani Sordo + 1.906
11. Jarkko Nikara + 2.673
12. P-G Andersson + 3.294
13. Martin Prokop + 4.723
14. Riku Tahko + 8.002
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