Mikko Hirvonen leads Ford one-two amid high drama in Rally Australia

Mikko Hirvonen leads Ford team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.6 seconds after a chaotic afternoon in Australia

Mikko Hirvonen leads Ford one-two amid high drama in Rally Australia

Amid extremely wet and slippery conditions, the Ford duo have survived Friday's main loops of stages to move into first and second, despite both making minor errors in the morning, as the works Citroens crashed out. Sebastien Loeb rolled his car on the day's second stage, while Sebastien Ogier - who had taken over the lead - struck a tree on the first stage after service this afternoon.

Hirvonen said that the stages had been among the most treacherous he had ever encountered.

"It's been like hell, unbelievable," he said. "So difficult to pick your place through the corner as you have no idea what grip you have. In some places when you hit the brakes it's just like ice and you just go straight."

Latvala won two of this afternoon's three stages, with Hirvonen taking the other fastest time. The field is now heading for another two runs through the Coffs Harbour superspecial to conclude the leg.

Petter Solberg is third, 41.4s off the lead, despite two spins today.

The Solberg Citroen had been only 10s ahead of Stobart Ford's Evgeny Novikov as the Russian looked poised to challenge for a podium, but Novikov has had to retire from the leg after hitting a rock on SS7. His Stobart team-mates Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson have stayed out of trouble and are fourth and fifth, ahead of the Abu Dhabi Ford of Khalid Al Qassimi.

The WRC field has been decimated by attrition, with the likes of Peter van Merksteijn and Daniel Oliveira joining Ken Block, Novikov and the Citroen pair in retirement after incidents this afternoon.

Production class leader Hayden Paddon is therefore up in seventh overall, and could clinch the title this weekend.

Leading positions after SS8: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 1h11m30.2s 2. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 6.6s 3. Petter Solberg Solberg Citroen + 41.4s 4. Henning Solberg Stobart Ford + 2m24.4s 5. Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford + 2m53.9s 6. Khalid Al Qassimi Abu Dhabi Ford + 4m31.4s 7. Hayden Paddon Symtech Subaru + 4m56.6s 8. Michal Kosciuszko Lotos Mitsubishi + 6m19.5s 9. Oleksandr Saliuk Mentos Mitsubishi + 6m57.3s 10. Benito Guerra GMA Mitsubishi + 8m06.0s 
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