Skoda's Juho Hanninen has increased his advantage on the Rallye Monte Carlo, the first round in the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge, following the opening loop today [Thursday].
Hanninen began day two 11.9 seconds up on Stephane Sarrazin. However the Finn soon saw his cushion grow, when his closest rival went off the road in SS4, the 25.30 kilometre Labatie d'Andaure-St-Pierre sur Doux test, and lost almost 5 minutes.
Juho meanwhile was on a charge and was 8.5 seconds quicker than Kris Meeke in the first test, which included patches of ice. Hanninen then set the pace again in SS5, 5.5 seconds up on Anton Alen. Although he settled for the seventh best time in SS6, he still returned to the mid-day halt at Valence with a very good lead. Indeed he now heads Sebastien Ogier by 1 minute 24.3 seconds.
Ogier moved up to second in SS6, when Kris Meeke went off and lost around 30 seconds. Meeke had been fractionally ahead of Ogier, but now slips to fourth, with Freddy Loix in third.
Toni Gardemeister is next up, 33 seconds further back in his Astra-run Fiat Grande Punto S2000, followed by 2008 IRC champion, Nicolas Vouilloz, who trails the ex-Suzuki WRT driver by 13.3 seconds.
Further down the order, Giandomenico Basso and Stephane Sarrazin complete the top eight, the former more than a minute off the battle for P5.
Jan Kopecky, who won SS6 to ensure Skoda took a clean sweep of stage wins this morning, and Anton Alen are ninth and tenth respectively, with Franz Wittman just on the verge of the top ten in P11. Wittman is the top non-Super 2000 driver, but he lost out this morning in his Mitsubishi as he had to run second in the order.
The action now resumes at 15.11 hours local time, with all three of this morning's stages set to be repeated to conclude the second leg.
More to follow later...