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WRC NEWS 

Hirvonen starts well in Norway

Mikko Hirvonen made a commanding start to Rally Norway as Fords occupied first and second place on Friday morning.

The Finn blitzed the first stage of the rally to be 11 seconds quicker than anyone else, and despite a less impressive second stage his lead is currently 8.4 seconds over Marcus Gronholm.

"The second stage was not so good," said Hirvonen. "There were long straights and some big braking areas where I was losing time, but we can push harder for sure so it will be a good fight."

Last weekend's Rally Sweden winner Gronholm was second on both stages in the first loop of the day, initially to Hirvonen and then to Sebastien Loeb, who had struggled with his pacenotes in SS1.

The world champion is in third place though after coming back to win SS2, which moved him ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, who was third after the first stage.

"The first stage was good and the second one started well," said Latvala. "Then I made a mistake at a bend and we were in too much snow but it's ok."

Toni Gardemeister is in fifth place after having a solid start in his Mitsubishi, while Henning Solberg is just ahead of his brother Petter as the home drivers sit in sixth and seventh positions.

The Subaru drivers were once again struggling though as they tackle the final rally before getting their new car for the season.

"I tried everything I could," said Solberg. "I was struggling in the slow corners with traction, but that's the way it is."

Chris Atkinson was also downbeat after the first couple of stages, as the pair were split by Gigi Galli who currently holds the last point in eighth.

"I think we are going to have to be cautious like in Sweden," said Atkinson. "My time is no good."

Manfred Stohl was also complaining of traction problems in his Citroen Xsara, and he completed the top 10 just ahead of Dani Sordo.

Top 10 leaderboard after SS2:

Pos  Driver         Make         Time
 1.  Hirvonen       Ford         24:27.1
 2.  Gronholm       Ford         +   8.5
 3.  Loeb           Citroen      +  12.4
 4.  Latvala        Ford         +  22.4
 5.  Gardemeister   Mitsubishi   +  22.7
 6.  Solberg        Ford         +  23.2
 7.  Solberg        Subaru       +  24.4
 8.  Galli          Citroen      +  31.6
 9.  Atkinson       Subaru       +  37.4
10.  Stohl          Citroen      +  38.5
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