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Hanninen leads tight Azores fight

Juho Hanninen, Skoda, Azores 2010Juho Hanninen leads the Rally Azores after the first three stages - but just 0.2 seconds cover the top three drivers.

Local driver Bruno Magalhaes led his first home event of the year for Peugeot Portugal for the first two stages, initially by just 0.3s over Andreas Mikkelsen's Ford, then by only 0.1s over SS2 winner Hanninen.

It was Mikkelsen who then won the day-closing Grupo Marques superspecial, which put him on equal second with Magalhaes, both of them 0.2s behind Hanninen's Skoda overall.

Jan Kopecky is fourth in the second works Skoda, struggling slightly with a clutch problem but still within 5.5s of the lead.

Road position has been a major factor today, with reigning champion Kris Meeke running first as the leg one order was set by numerical order on the entry list. The Peugeot UK driver described stage one as "unbelievably slippery" and found himself in fifth - which would have potentially put him first on the road for all nine of Friday's stages as tomorrow's order starts with the top five reversed.

But Meeke then dropped him on SS2 and fell to sixth behind Portuguese championship leader Bernardo Sousa - hinting that he slowed deliberately in order to do so - which left the frustrated Ford driver facing the worst of tomorrow's stage conditions.

Pos  Driver             Car          Time/Gap
 1.  Juho Hanninen      Skoda        18m35.8s
 2.  Bruno Magalhaes    Peugeot        + 0.2s
 3.  Andreas Mikkelsen  Ford           + 0.2s
 4.  Jan Kopecky        Skoda          + 5.5s
 5.  Bernardo Sousa     Ford          + 11.3s
 6.  Kris Meeke         Peugeot       + 12.3s
 7.  Pedro Peres        Mitsubishi    + 46.6s
 8.  Vitor Pascoal      Peugeot       + 47.4s
 9.  Ricardo Moura      Mitsubishi    + 49.7s
10.  Pedro Vale         Mitsubishi  + 1m20.1s
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