Hirvonen on course for home win
|By Matt Beer||Saturday, August 1st 2009, 15:16 GMT|
Mikko Hirvonen just has to complete the final four Sunday stages in Finland to clinch his first home victory and extend his World Rally Championship lead.
Having broken away from Sebastien Loeb this morning, thanks to both the Citroen driver's tyre damage and his own burst of speed, Hirvonen (Ford) now leads the event by 32 seconds.
"It's been a really, really good day," said Hirvonen. "Everything went exactly as I planned. I took it very safely [this afternoon], so I think Sebastien might be a little bit faster, but I want to keep my lead for tomorrow.
"I'm going to continue like I am now. It's a shame that Sebastien had a problem or we would have had a fantastic fight all the way through, but at least now it might be a little bit easier for me and I don't have to take as many risks as I have so far."
Loeb has resigned himself to finishing second and watching Hirvonen edge slightly further away in the standings.
"Nothing else to do. Just trying to finish now," said the champion. "I took a lot of risks but Mikko was always in front. It was very difficult to try to catch him, and now the game is over."
A pair of stage wins at the end of the leg have helped Jari-Matti Latvala pull clear of Dani Sordo in their battle for third, with the Ford now 10.5s ahead of the Citroen.
"It's really, really been a tough day," said Latvala. "In the morning I was feeling so unwell and had to push against Sordo and he was so quick.
"Then in the middle of the day I was feeling better and I was able to get closer, and then it got even better."
Sordo admitted that he could have driven better this afternoon, but vowed to fight back on Sunday.
"I drove very badly on this stage, I don't know why," he said at the end of SS19. "The car is oversteering too much all the time. But it's okay, Jari is faster, but we will see tomorrow. In these stage conditions the roads will be better for me and I will try, of course."
Fifth is still held by Matti Rantanen, but the Munchi's Ford driver was dissatisfied with his performance, for while he has had the measure of all the other non-works cars all weekend, he had hoped for more.
"I can't be happy because I haven't fulfilled my goal - to be as close as possible to Mikko and Sebastien," said Rantanen.
He is beginning to come under pressure from Sebastien Ogier, who has got quicker throughout the event and set the second fastest time on SS18. The Citroen Junior driver is now within 18s of Rantanen.
Ogier had earlier taken sixth from Mads Ostberg, whose strong run then ended when he put the Adapta Subaru off the road on Vaarinmaja. Ostberg's exit - although he is still classified 10th under superally at present - moves Jari Ketomaa and Matthew Wilson up to seventh and eighth.
Shortly after Ostberg's crash, Kimi Raikkonen's day also ended with a roll near the Norwegian's incident. Initial reports suggest that Raikkonen and co-driver Kaj Lindstrom are unhurt but that they have had to retire.
In the Junior class, Martin Prokop has led from the outset and is course for a win that would crown him as the series champion for 2009.
Leading positions after day two:
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap 1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 2h27m35.8s 2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 32.0s 3. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 1m08.3s 4. Dani Sordo Citroen + 1m18.8s 5. Matti Rantanen Ford + 4m10.6s 6. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 4m28.1s 7. Jari Ketomaa Subaru + 4m59.1s 8. Matthew Wilson Ford + 6m01.7s 9. Conrad Rautenbach Citroen + 8m43.8s 10. Mads Ostberg Subaru + 9m45.2s