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Mikko Hirvonen leads tight battle in Rally Sweden

Mikko Hirvonen, Citroen, Sweden 2012Mikko Hirvonen leads Rally Sweden by 2.9 seconds over Jari-Matti Latvala amid a thrilling battle on the opening morning.

The rally's first four full-length stages have featured three changes of lead already.

Last year's underdog star Mads Ostberg (Adapta Ford) was first to strike, going equal fastest with works Ford driver Latvala on SS2 to depose superspecial winner Dani Sordo's Mini from the outright lead.

But Ostberg found his set-up less successful on the next two stages and dropped back, as Latvala and Ford team-mate Petter Solberg moved into a one-two at the front.

Solberg then lost time with a spin on the short SS4, which Hirvonen won to bring himself right onto Latvala's tail.

Another stage win on SS5 then thrust Hirvonen's Citroen to the front, as Latvala rued small but costly brushes with the snow banks.

Ostberg remains third overall, 10.3s from first place and just ahead of Sebastien Loeb, whose morning started badly when he received a 10s penalty for being slightly late out of service when a late decision to add a second spare wheel meant set-up changes took too long. The champion was quickest on SS3 and is just ahead of Solberg.

Sordo completes the top six in the Mini, with his team-mate Patrik Sandell just behind Evgeny Novikov (M-Sport Ford) in eighth.

Leading positions after SS5:

Pos  Driver              Team/Car       Time/Gap
 1.  Mikko Hirvonen      Citroen        44m17.7s
 2.  Jari-Matti Latvala  Ford             + 2.9s
 3.  Mads Ostberg        Adapta Ford     + 10.3s
 4.  Sebastien Loeb      Citroen         + 12.7s
 5.  Petter Solberg      Ford            + 14.6s
 6.  Dani Sordo          Mini            + 21.8s
 7.  Evgeny Novikov      M-Sport Ford    + 30.5s
 8.  Patrik Sandell      Mini          + 1m03.4s
 9.  Henning Solberg     Go Fast Ford  + 1m06.1s
10.  Eyvind Brynildsen   Adapta Ford   + 1m25.0s
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