Mikko Hirvonen held onto P1 on day two of the Rally Japan, but he knows that won't be enough to keep his championship bid alive if arch rival Sebastien Loeb remains in third position.

Hirvonen, who has led throughout, came under a bit of pressure from his BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala on Saturday. However while Mikko saw his lead cut, he will still take a 15.5 second cushion into the final leg.

Speaking after the two runs through the Sapporo Dome super special, which again brought proceedings to a close, he noted that it was a tough day and that the repeat loop in the afternoon was especially difficult, as the tests became increasingly cut up and deeply rutted.

"It was quite a nerve wracking day. The roads were much faster and it took a while for me to get used to that after the narrow, twisty stages yesterday. This afternoon there were ruts everywhere but I couldn't afford to ease my pace too much," said Mikko. "The conditions were difficult and Jari-Matti drove quickly behind me.

"The strangest moment came this morning however, when I lost my rhythm after I had to slow when two deer ran across the road in front of me.

"I came to Japan looking for a victory but even if I achieve that tomorrow, it looks like that won't help my championship challenge now. Tomorrow's stages are soft but they shouldn't be as slippery, so I hope we have an easier time."

Latvala meanwhile added that he wasn't trying to challenge for the lead, he was merely pushing to ensure Sebastien Loeb couldn't overhaul him and grab the runners-up spot.

"I succeeded in staying ahead of Sebastien. Maybe he drove carefully in the ruts but, if so, it made my life easier," Jari-Matti continued. "I needed to drive fast because I didn't want Seb close to me, but equally I didn't want to put Mikko under pressure, so I followed Seb's split times in the stages most of the time.

"I drove cautiously through the first two stages and then stepped up my pace. I wanted to find the right balance and not risk too much, before increasing my speed when I found my confidence.

"This afternoon I punctured a tyre on the first stage of the loop so I drove a little more cautiously because I had only one spare in the car and another puncture would have meant the end of my rally. In these conditions the only thing to do was follow the ruts and be brave. The tactic was to keep all four wheels in the ruts, just like a train track."

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