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Loeb maintains Cyprus lead

Sebastien Loeb, Citroen, Cyprus Rally 2009Sebastien Loeb continues to lead the Cyprus Rally, while a mixed morning for Ford has seen Mikko Hirvonen advance to second but Jari-Matti Latvala tumble outside the top 20.

Latvala started the leg by winning SS7 and looked set to join the battle for second, only to go off the road on the following stage and become stuck in a ditch for 21 minutes. He eventually continued in 25th position overall.

"We lost a lot of points for the manufacturers' championship in that incident," he admitted.

While Latvala fell back, his team-mate Hirvonen moved in the opposite direction - setting the fastest time on SS8 to take second from Citroen's Dani Sordo, although he remains 68 seconds behind the Spaniard's team leader Loeb.

Hirvonen was frustrated that having gained slightly on Loeb on SS7 and SS8, he lost further time on SS9 Orkontas.

"The conditions are changing so much on the stages, and this stage was getting worse for me all the time," he said. "We lost a hell of a lot there. On the morning stages we could still respond to his speed, but we didn't have a chance there."

Loeb took a comfortable stage win on Orkontas - but reckoned he would have been faster still without a quick spin.

"It was going to be a really good time," said the leader. "I was pushing very, very hard, and I had a spin in a slow hairpin. I had to reverse and start again. I didn't lose too much, maybe five seconds. I think we are still faster because I was in a really, really good rhythm."

Latvala's accident allowed Petter Solberg to advance to a solitary fourth place. The Norwegian was third-fastest on SS9, less than five seconds behind Loeb, despite his Citroen Xsara starting to overheat.

Solberg had battled with Citroen Junior's Sebastien Ogier yesterday, but a roll on Pano Panagia cost Ogier two minutes.

"I had a problem with cleaning the windscreen and I couldn't see anything," he said. "So I missed a corner and went off and rolled."

That dropped Ogier to seventh behind team-mate Evgeny Novikov, while Matthew Wilson has charged from eighth to fifth for Stobart Ford this morning - showing greatly improved pace after resolving Friday's brake problems.

"The rhythm feels good," said Wilson. "It's a big improvement on yesterday. We've taken a bit more time off Sebastien Ogier so that's increased that gap, now we've got to monitor the splits to Novikov and see what we can do."

Conrad Rautenbach (Citroen Junior) escaped a spin on today's first stage and is now in line for the final point.

Patrik Sandell has brought Armindo Araujo's Production class lead down to just 13.2s, while third and fourth-placed Nasser Al Attiyah and Toshi Arai have also set fastest times this morning and gained substantially on the leaders - although they remain one and two minutes behind Araujo respectively.

The Junior battle has also closed up as Michal Kosciuszko carved into Martin Prokop's advantage, reducing the Suzuki driver's overnight lead from three and a half minutes to 1m42s.

Leading positions after SS9:

Pos  Driver             Car      Time
 1.  Sebastien Loeb     Citroen  2h38:03.3
 2.  Mikko Hirvonen     Ford      + 1:08.3
 3.  Dani Sordo         Citroen   + 1:19.1
 4.  Petter Solberg     Citroen   + 2:44.8
 5.  Matthew Wilson     Ford      + 5:38.8
 6.  Evgeny Novikov     Citroen   + 5:56.6
 7.  Sebastien Ogier    Citroen   + 6:10.2
 8.  Conrad Rautenbach  Citroen   + 6:49.0
 9.  Federico Villagra  Ford      + 7:56.9
10.  Khalid Al Qassimi  Ford      + 8:47.2

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