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Hirvonen in control after Loeb suffers puncture

BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen has strengthened his grip on the lead of Neste Oil Rally Finland following the second group of speed tests today.

Hirvonen led the ninth round in the 2009 World Rally Championship by 10.9 seconds in his Focus RS WRC car after the opening loop this morning and then he extended that gap to 28 seconds when the tests were repeated.

After winning all three special stages this morning, Hirvonen was again on it and won the first two tests on the second loop.

His win on the 20.94 kilometre Himos 2 test was decisive as the 29-year-old was 13.5 seconds faster than his closest rival Sebastien Loeb, who hit a pot hole and punctured the front right tyre.

With his lead doubled, Hirvonen eased his pace for the final stage, the 14.95 kilometre Surkee, and was second fastest.

"His puncture has taken the pressure off a little, but the lead isn't enough for me to relax," explained Hirvonen. "I would like to extend it further this afternoon to make tomorrow easier. I've had no problems but the last section of the last stage was full of ruts and rocks so I was cautious there.

"Today's final test is the longest of the rally and both that and the previous stage are new and have many tricky sections."

Loeb meanwhile has now conceded that the victory is all but out of reach. Indeed having been unable to beat Hirvonen in any of the tests today he now wants to make sure he gets to the finish and takes the runners-up spot.

"On stage 15 there was a big rut in the road which was impossible to avoid. We hit it and the tyre came off the rim, losing all air pressure," Loeb reflected. "For me the rally is over now. I cannot catch Mikko if he continues like this with no mistakes. We will just try and finish in second place."

Jari-Matti Latvala, who is suffering with an upset stomach, is next up and on course for third. The Finn overhauled Dani Sordo in SS16 after topping the times.

"I'm feeling better than I was this morning when I felt so sick that my only goal was not to lose too much time," said Latvala.




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