Latvala maintains lead over Hirvonen
|By Steven English||Saturday, February 9th 2008, 11:23 GMT|
Jari-Matti Latvala extended his Rally Sweden lead over Mikko Hirvonen to almost a minute this morning, while several other leading contenders dropped by the wayside as conditions deteriorated.
Latvala and Hirvonen stayed out of trouble and, barring accidents or mechanical failures, the Ford teammates will have a virtually unchallenged run to victory.
Their Citroen rivals Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo are currently out of contention and third-placed Henning Solberg also dropped out this morning with a crash during SS11.
Despite winning all six full-length stages yesterday, Latvala hasn't topped the timesheets yet today. But the Finn isn't concerned with stage victories any more.
"I know that other drivers are going faster but I don't need to push and take risks," he said. "I can afford to be cautious and just keep an eye on Mikko."
Hirvonen took eight seconds back from Latvala on the final stage of today's first leg, reducing the lead to under a minute. He too is reluctant to push too hard, however, in an attempt to catch his teammate.
"Things are fine like this, it's important that I just make sure of these eight points for second place," he said.
All three stage victories this morning went to Citroen, with Loeb winning two and Sordo one.
Loeb won the first and third stages of the day but is nearly 25 minutes behind Latvala. He said: "We're back today just to test and work on set-up. I'd prefer to go home but the team want me to drive, so I'll drive."
Gigi Galli was left with third place to himself after Solberg's crash. The latter's brother Petter, who was one of the next cars on the road, told reporters at the end of the stage that "there was a lot of snow and it looks like they spun and went into a ditch.
"I'm so disappointed for [Henning] because he was pushing with everything today. I don't know whether they can get it going again."
Galli now lies nearly 30 seconds behind Hirvonen and over a minute ahead of Petter Solberg, who is fourth. The Italian said: "All I have to do now is just keep control. It would be great to still be in third by tomorrow evening, I think Mikko is too strong for us to catch him."
Suzuki driver Toni Gardemeister also stopped out on SS11. He was able to get going again but lost four minutes and dropped to tenth overall, eight minutes adrift of Latvala.
Top ten leaderboard after SS11
Pos Driver Make Time 1. Latvala Ford 1:38:44.0 2. Hirvonen Ford + 53.9 3. Galli Ford + 1:22.3 4. P Solberg Subaru + 2:34.0 5. Wilson Ford + 3:57.7 6. Mikkelsen Ford + 4:23.7 7. Sordo Citroen + 6:53.0 8. Sandell Peugeot + 6:59.2 9. Hanninen Mitsubishi + 7:03.4 10. Gardemeister Suzuki + 8:00.8