Sebastien Loeb will take a lead of 2.8s into day two of Neste Oil Rally Finland, which has got off to a dramatic start on the high-speed gravel stages north of the service park in Jyvaskyla this evening (Thursday).

As a result the Citroen DS3 WRC ace, world champion for the past seven seasons, will be forced to sweep a clean line through the loose surface gravel for his rivals on Friday’s stages when he is set to drop time.

Loeb, from France, sealed his fate with the fastest time on stage two, the classification after which was used to determine the starting order for Friday. “I’ve made no mistakes and we will see what will happen tomorrow with the road position,” said Loeb, who underlined his impressive start to the rally by claiming his second stage victory on the day’s final run, Laajavouri.

Ogier was second fastest on the opening test but slowed sufficiently on the next run to ensure he would slip behind Loeb in the overall standings after the stage. “There is only one man who is important for me for the championship and that is Seb Loeb,” said Ogier. “My goal is to try and beat Seb.”

Factory Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala, who is third overnight, 4.4s behind Loeb, said he was too cautious on stage one before admitting to dropping time nearing the finish of stage two to gain a more advantageous road position for the second day.

Jari Ketomaa, making his debut in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC in Finland, was a sensational fastest outright on the first stage. But anxious to avoid running first on Friday the Finn wisely reduced his pace close to the finish of stage two. “I don’t like doing tactics but it’s a long day tomorrow and I don’t want to be first on the road.”

Behind Citroen privateer Petter Solberg, Dani Sordo is the top MINI John Cooper Works WRC driver in sixth position following a solid start to the rally. The Spaniard reported an intercom glitch on stage one but was second quickest on stage two. He is 14.3s behind Loeb heading into Friday.

Ott Tanak tops the Super 2000 World Rally Championship classification in a stunning seventh overall despite his Fiesta relying on a normally aspirated engine compared to the turbocharged units that power the pacesetting World Rally Cars. The Estonian’s car also has limited aerodynamics, making his performance all the more impressive.

Mads Ostberg is eighth following a slightly hesitant start in his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta. Kris Meeke is ninth in the second factory MINI on what he has described as a “high speed recce” due to his limited stage knowledge. Tanak’s SWRC rival Juho Hanninen completes the top 10 in his Skoda Fabia, 8.5s behind Tanak.

Briton Matthew Wilson, who reported running wide and losing five seconds on a narrow section on stage one, was third quickest on stage two in his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta. He trails his Norwegian team-mate Henning Solberg, who is 11th overall, by 1.3s heading into day two.

Mikko Hirvonen, who hails from Jyvaskyla, suffered a disastrous start to the event, which he won in 2009. The works Ford ace went off the road on a left-hand bend on stage one and struck a tree after he reported his car’s engine momentarily lost power and drive. Damage sustained to his Fiesta’s rear brakes and suspension caused further delay over the next two stages to the extent he is 2m02.7s off the overnight pace.

“We went into one left-hander and the engine died and we lost drive,” said Hirvonen, “We hit a tree lost all the brakes. The suspension was also damaged.”

Matti Rantanen was sixth after stage one in his MINI John Cooper Works WRC only to go off the road seven and a half kilometres into the next test on a fast left-hand bend over a crest. The Finn’s car is reported to have suffered significant damage although both he and co-driver Mikko Lukka are understood to be unhurt.

Wildcard entrant Jarkko Nikara holds a slender margin over Subaru Impreza driver Patrik Flodin in the Production Car World Rally Championship standings. Northern Ireland’s Alastair Fisher tops the WRC Academy runners in his Ford Fiesta R2. He’s 20.2s clear of Swede Victor Henriksson.


Pos  Driver              Team/Car          Time/Gap  1.  Sebastien Loeb      Citroen           20m17.5s  2.  Sebastien Ogier     Citroen             + 2.8s  3.  Jari-Matti Latvala  Ford                + 4.4s  4.  Jari Ketomaa        HJ-Autotalo Ford    + 7.0s  5.  Petter Solberg      Solberg Citroen    + 12.6s  6.  Dani Sordo          Mini               + 14.3s  7.  Ott Tanak           MM Ford            + 17.3s  8.  Mads Ostberg        Stobart Ford       + 18.6s  9.  Kris Meeke          Mini               + 20.9s 10.  Juho Hanninen       Red Bull Skoda     + 25.8s

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