Sebastien Loeb leads Rally Finland after the opening three stages on Thursday evening, after slowing tactics from his rivals as they tried to secure a better road position for Friday.

The rally began with a surprise pacesetter on SS1 Lankamaa. Privateer Jari Ketomaa, who is making a one-off entry in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC for his home event, posted the fastest time, as the 17th car through the stage. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Citroen's Sebastien Ogier. Jari-Matti Latvala was third for Ford with Loeb fourth quickest.

Latvala's teammate Mikko Hirvonen suffered a miserable start to his bid for victory on his home event meanwhile. An engine problem caused him to run wide and hit a tree, damaging both his breaks and his suspension.

“We went into one left-hander and the engine just died,” said Hirvonen at the end of the stage having lost 38.1s. “I had no drive in that corner and it went straight off and hit a tree. I had no brakes, no drive. I don't know what the problem was.”

With the road order being determined after SS2 Laukaa, Ketomaa, Ogier and Latvala all opted to deploy tactics to ensure them a better road position. Loeb ran first through the stage and was therefore powerless to determine his position. This led to him getting the quickest stage time, and elevated him above both Latvala and Ogier into the lead, with Ketomaa slipping back into fourth place.

Loeb won the short SS3 Laajavuori that closed the day to extend his lead to 2.8s over Ogier. Latvala is 4.4s behind Loeb in third place, while Ketomaa is fourth, seven seconds behind the leader.

Petter Solberg dropped from fifth to seventh on SS2, denying that he tactically slowed and blamed dust from the struggling Hirvonen instead. The Norwegian privateer soon took fifth back with the third quickest time on SS3. He is 12.6s off the lead but has a far superior road position for tomorrow.

Dani Sordo enjoyed a promising start to the rally on the second event for the Mini John Cooper Works WRC. He was eighth after the opening test, but a second fastest time on SS2 moved him up to fifth before slipping back behind Solberg on the next stage.

Dani Sordo lies an encouraging sixth for Mini after the opening three stages - Photo Credit: BMW AG

The Spaniard is just ahead of Ott Tanak, who is the top Super 2000 runner in his Fiesta. Mads Ostberg is eighth in his M-Sport Stobart-entered Fiesta RS WRC, having twice swapped positions with the second works Mini of Kris Meeke. Juho Hanninen is tenth in his S2000 Skoda Fabia.

Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson lie just outside the top ten in 11th and 12th for M-Sport Stobart, with the latter going third quickest in SS2 after what he admitted was a cautious start. Kimi Raikkonen is 13th in his Ice 1 Citroen DS3.

Hirvonen's troubles continued on SS2, with his right-rear wheel locking during the stage and causing a puncture. This dropped him a minute and a half behind, and lost another half a minute on SS3.

Young Finn Matti Rantanen was sixth quickest and the best of the Minis on SS1, but crashed heavily on the next stage.

Joonas Lindroos and Andreas Mikkelsen are 19th and 22nd in their Volkswagen Motorsport-entered Skoda Fabia S2000s.

Top ten standings after SS3:

Pos

No

Driver

Team

Car

Time/Gap

1. 1 Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total Citroen DS3 WRC 20:17.5
2. 2 Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total Citroen DS3 WRC +2.8
3. 4 Jari-Matti Latvala Ford Abu Dhabi Ford Fiesta RS WRC +4.4
4. 19 Jari Ketomaa HJ-Autotalo Ford Fiesta RS WRC +7.0
5. 11 Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +12.6
6. 37 Dani Sordo Mini Mini John Cooper Works WRC +14.3
7. 22 Ott Tänak MMM Ford Fiesta S2000 +17.3
8. 6 Mads Østberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +18.6
9. 52 Kris Meeke Mini Mini John Cooper Works WRC +20.9
10. 25 Juho Hänninen Red Bull Skoda Skoda Fabia S2000 +25.8