Hirvonen leads into final day
|By Matt Beer
||Saturday, June 13th 2009, 15:00 GMT
Mikko Hirvonen will take a comfortable 1m40s lead into the final leg of the Acropolis Rally after surviving an extremely dramatic day in Greece.
Although both Citroens had retired this morning, Hirvonen was still under heavy pressure from Petter Solberg as the Norwegian benefited from slightly better stage conditions to close to within 21 seconds.
But Solberg broke his suspension on SS11 and plunged down the order, allowing Hirvonen to relax slightly.
"Lots has happened today but really it's kind of a clever drive from me," he said. "No mistakes, no problems, avoiding rocks and saving tyres. I've been the only one who hasn't had any problems and here we are.
"A good day. Now there's a big lead so I can really take it steady and if everything goes well it should be okay tomorow, but you never know."
Sebastien Ogier has remained steady and consistent, and moved up to a potentially stunning second for the Citroen Junior team - but ended the day frustrated to lose several seconds behind Solberg's damaged car.
"I caught Petter and he didn't stop, so I lost a lot of time," said Ogier.
The retirements ahead mean Jari-Matti Latvala has now recovered to third place, to his great surprise after falling to 11th due to yesterday's final stage accident.
"It's an amazing day," said Latvala. "Starting 11th on the road, yesterday we had a disaster, and now at the end of the day we are third. I would have been afraid to imagine this.
"We have been driving at a steady pace all the time, not going crazy, because the Acropolis is normally a rally that brings surprises."
Ogier's team-mate Evgeny Novikov, who lost several minutes with tyre damage yesterday, has been the star of the afternoon loop. Two stage wins allowed him to overhaul Federico Villagra (Munchi's Ford) and Conrad Rautenbach (Citroen Junior), and he then picked up more positions due to Solberg's damage and Mads Ostberg stopping on SS11 when fourth. All that drama has put Novikov into fourth place with five stages to go in the morning.
Villagra and Rautenbach continue to battle for fifth, ahead of Ford's Khalid Al Qassimi.
Solberg's day looked like it was over when his suspension was broken so badly on SS11 that the strut pierced his Citroen Xsara's bonnet. Despite appearing to have retired, Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills never gave up and manage to improvise a repair that at least got them to SS12. However they lost a further eight minutes on the stage and are now eighth overall.
"We tried to fix it before the stage start and it worked for a little bit and then it broke again," Solberg said. "Very unlucky."
The WRC attrition means the top Production cars are now in the top ten. Nasser Al-Attiyah is at the head of the class field, having passed long-time leader Lambros Athanassoulas as the Greek Skoda driver slowed with engine problems on today's last stage.
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 3h07m33.0s
2. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 1m40.1s
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 2m44.2s
4. Evgeny Novikov Citroen + 3m49.8s
5. Conrad Rautenbach Citroen + 4m01.9s
6. Federico Villagra Ford + 4m03.1s
7. Khalid Al Qassimi Ford + 6m09.4s
8. Petter Solberg Citroen + 10m12.1s
9. Nasser Al-Attiyah Subaru + 11m04.6s
10. Lambros Athanassoulas Skoda + 11m13.4s