Mikko Hirvonen continues to lead the Rally Finland, but is still unable to shake off Sebastien Loeb as the title rivals stage a very close battle for victory.
Just as had been the case this morning, Hirvonen (Ford) edged away from Loeb (Citroen) on the Jukojarvi and Kruununpera stages, but then saw the world champion eat into his advantage again on the following Mokkipera and Palsankyla tests. They are separated by just four seconds at the end of SS9.
"It's been OK, but these stages are difficult for me and now Sebastien is coming really fast," said Hirvonen. "I made two or three small mistakes where you lose a bit of time and speed. It wasn't so good in the afternoon."
Loeb admitted that there were still stages where he simply lacked the confidence to match his Finnish sparring partner.
"The time is very good again in this one, but the other ones are more difficult and Mikko is faster," he said. "We lost a bit of time again. It's a close fight and I'm trying my best. It's difficult, it's very, very fast and you have to be completely confident if you're going to do something."
Dani Sordo remains third in the second Citroen, and has a 9.2s cushion over Jari-Matti Latvala, as the Ford driver continues to take a cautious approach following recent errors.
"It's been a quite OK day," Latvala mused. "We've been losing a bit too much time in some stages, but I'm quite satisfied because it's a 9s gap to Dani now so tomorrow will be an interesting day."
Farther back, the progress of Kimi Raikkonen on his World Rally Championship debut is attracting as much attention as the lead fight, with the Formula 1 driver now matching the pace of the Group N and Super 2000 regulars in his Abarth. He was just 0.5sec slower than Intercontinental Rally Challenge winner and class leader Juho Hanninen on SS9, and is now 17th overall and fourth in his division.
Behind the factory WRC cars, Matti Rantanen has now established himself as best of the rest for Munchi's Ford, moving up to fifth place as Mads Ostberg fell back with suspension problems on his Adapta Subaru. That issue dropped the Norwegian to seventh, behind the advancing Henning Solberg (Stobart Ford), and Ostberg now has fellow Subaru privateer Jari Ketomaa just over a second behind him.
Outside the points, Sebastien Ogier (Citroen Junior) has reclaimed ninth from Stobart's Matthew Wilson, after earlier losing the spot following an overshoot at the start of the afternoon.
Having completed the final full-length stages of the leg, the crews are now heading back for a second run at the Killeri superspecial, which will not place at 8pm local time tonight.Leading positions after SS9:
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 1h02m51.4s
2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 4.0s
3. Dani Sordo Citroen + 20.3s
4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 29.5s
5. Matti Rantanen Ford + 1m12.7s
6. Henning Solberg Ford + 1m15.8s
7. Mads Ostberg Subaru + 1m35.6s
8. Jari Ketomaa Subaru + 1m37.0s
9. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 2m13.2s
10. Matthew Wilson Ford + 2m17.1s