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Martin: Hirvonen can hang on for win

Five-time world rally winner Markko Martin reckons Mikko Hirvonen's 16-second lead on Rally Sweden will be enough to see him through tomorrow's five stages

Martin admitted he had been impressed with Hirvonen's pace through the opening round of the World Rally Championship and felt his lead would be enough to ensure the 29-year-old could claim his first win on the Karlstad-based event.

"We thought maybe it would be the same story with Sebastien [Loeb] this morning," said Martin, "but Mikko has found his mojo and he's kept it with him all day. I'm not surprised by what I've seen, he's driven well and, in the snow, a 16-second lead is quite a lot.

"It would be good for the start of the season for Mikko to win the rally, it's important for him to win to get the year off to a good start."

Martin is present in Sweden with his own team, MM Motorsport, running Pirelli Star Driver Ott Tanak. Tanak was one of the stars of the opening day of Rally Sweden, with the Estonian belying the fact that this was his first attempt at the event to lead the conventional Group N cars and all of the Production Car World Rally Championship runners comfortably. Unfortunately for him, he slid off the road in SS7 and lost five minutes.

"Ott had lost the studs on his tyres and had no grip, it was a shame, he was going well," said Martin. "But, like I said to him, this is what this rally is about - you need to learn to drive with no studs in the tyres, it can happen and it's part of the experience."

Martin came within an ace of winning this rally in 2004, when he was leading in a Ford Focus RS WRC. He recalled: "It was looking good for us [to win] that year.

"But then Petter [Solberg] uncovered a rock after he hit a snowbank going through the stage before us. When I got there, I hit the snowbank as well, but when I got there the snow had gone and it was just a rock! These things can happen, but I wanted that win.

"At that point, no non-Scandinavians had won the event and I would have been the first, but now Sebastien beat me to it. The Swedish means a lot to drivers, it's definitely one of the events they want to win."

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