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Hirvonen extends lead

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.




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