Gronholm just holds overnight lead

Sebastien Loeb and Marcus Gronholm are locked in a superb battle for supremacy at the end of the first leg of the Rally Finland

Gronholm just holds overnight lead

Loeb has continued to close the gap on early leader Gronholm after some superb performances this afternoon and is now only 12 seconds behind the local driver.

Gronholm beat Loeb through SS7 by 4.2 seconds, only for Loeb to take an impressive victory in SS8 by 5.3 seconds, the second running of the Mokkipera stage, run in soaking wet conditions.

The afternoon runs through SS8 were considerably slower than this morning's, with the heavy and persistent rain causing the mud to contribute to lowering grip levels.

How tight the battle is going into the second leg was demonstrated in the final superspecial, where Gronholm edged Loeb for the fastest time by just 0.1 seconds.

The pair realise they are now locked in a battle for victory for the rest of the event.

"It has been a good day," Loeb said. "The last two [forest] stages were incredible, and really muddy, and I tried to push very hard and made no mistakes.

"We had a difficult start and it is really hard on the limit, and Marcus was very good and we are fighting a bit. But I'm sure the clouds are hanging right over my car!"

Gronholm said: "It was so, so slippery this afternoon. It is incredible conditions. We lost too much time in the mud but we hope to attack tomorrow."

Gronholm's Ford teammate Mikko Hirvonen is still in third place, but has dropped back from the leading pair after stalling at the start of SS8, contributing to a time 17.5 seconds slower than Loeb through the stage.

Hirvonen still has the roughly the same advantage over Petter Solberg he has held all afternoon, with the gap between them resting at 9.4 seconds.

Solberg's older bother Henning has moved up to fifth after problems hit Chris Atkinson.

The Australian Subaru driver dropped 56 seconds to the leaders when his car's engine started to overheat in SS7.

Mud and gravel picked up in a very rutted section had coated his car's radiator and the engine's control systems automatically cut power to keep the temperature under control.

He recovered, however, and is 29.9 seconds behind the OMV Peugeot driver in fifth.

Daniel Carlsson retired form the battle for sixth in SS7, after stopping in the middle of the stage.

Dani Sordo continued his strong fightback from his slow start to the rally to move into seventh, ahead of Italian Gigi Galli.

Pos Driver Car Time 1. Gronholm Ford 1:12:59.6 2. Loeb Citroen + 12.0 3. Hirvonen Ford + 43.5 4. Solberg Subaru + 52.9 5. Solberg Peugeot + 01:47.2 6. Atkinson Subaru + 02:17.1 7. Sordo Citroen + 02:45.0 8. Galli Peugeot + 02:49.6 9. Valimaki Mitsubishi + 03:02.3 10. Tuohino Citroen + 03:06.0 11. Hanninen Mitsubishi + 03:58.0 12. Kopecky Skoda + 04:42.2 13. Wilson Ford + 08:04.6 14. Stohl Peugeot + 09:03.5 15. Carlsson Mitsubishi + 12:39.4 

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Loeb fights back in Finland

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