BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen has increased his lead three-fold this morning during a wet opening to the second leg of the Neste Oil Rally Finland, the ninth round in the 2009 World Rally Championship.

Hirvonen began day two with a 3.3 second cushion over arch rival, Sebastien Loeb, and he immediately stretched that in the first test, SS11, the 21.35 kilometre Leustu test. Indeed he was 2.2 seconds quicker in his Ford Focus RS WRC to head to Himos 1 with a 5.5 second advantage.

Mikko then set the pace again in SS12, 1.4 seconds up on Loeb, before making it three from three in SS13, the 14.95 kilometre Surkee 1 test, when he was a full four seconds quicker than the Frenchman.

The 29-year-old, who celebrated his birthday yesterday, thus headed back to service with the gap up to 10.9 seconds.

"I thought, and hoped, it would rain," said Hirvonen. "It has made the roads softer and improved the grip so it's not as slippery as yesterday. The stages are fast and, with such good grip, it's a fantastic feeling to drive flat out.

"I could drive a little faster if I needed to but I'm comfortable at the moment. I need to be careful during the second pass in case the roads are rutted and I need to go out and drive with the same rhythm to try to extend the lead."

Loeb meanwhile was seemingly powerless to stop Hirvonen from pulling away and he had to settle for second best in all three stages.

"I was pushing to my limit. I found it really hard on that last stage and took a few risks but it wasn't enough," Loeb reflected.

"We will try to change the settings a little bit now. I tried to catch Mikko but at the moment it is difficult."

Dani Sordo is third, and while Jari-Matti Latvala has closed up slightly, the Spaniard still has 8.3 seconds in hand.

"I am happy because I haven't lost a lot of time," said Sordo. "Today though, the stages are more difficult. There are more crests but more grip."

Latvala is not so content however, and is feeling quite weak due to an upset stomach: "I started feeling ill about an hour before I got up," he explained. "It feels like a fever and I seem better when I'm out in the fresh air rather than inside the car.

"I've not eaten anything this morning so I feel quite weak. It was hard driving like this but I found a good rhythm and made no mistakes and if I can keep this pace then I have a chance of catching Dani Sordo."

Further down the order Matti Rantanen is a lonely fifth on his 'guest' outing with the Munchi's Ford WRT, over a minute off P4 and almost 50 seconds up on Mads Ostberg's Adapta WRT Subaru Impreza WRC.

Sebastien Ogier is next up and seventh, 8.3 seconds ahead of Jari Ketomaa, while Britain's Matthew Wilson is ninth and Conrad Rautenbach tenth.

Of the rest Khalid Al Qassimi and Federico Villagra complete the top twelve followed by Group N leader, Juho Hanninen and then Anton Alen, Patrik Flodin and Ferrari F1 star, Kimi Raikkonen.

In the Junior World Rally Championship, Martin Prokop has increased his lead over Kalle Pinomaki from around 10 seconds to 34. Aaron Burkart is third and set to take the final place on the J-WRC rostrum.

In terms of retirements Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg was the biggest casualty this morning, forced out in SS12 after sustaining suspension damage. He now hopes to re-start on Sunday under the SupeRally, just like his brother Petter and Citroen Junior Team's Evgeny Novikov did this morning after issues on day 1.

The action now continues at 11.37 hours local time, when all three of this morning's tests will be repeated.

More to follow then...

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