Latvala hangs onto lead in Australia

BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala remains in the lead on the Repco Rally Australia - but at the mid-day service, five drivers are still in the frame to win what is the tenth round in the 2009 World Rally Championship.

Over the morning's four competitive stages, SS16-SS19, the trailing pack of Sebastien Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen, Sebastien Ogier and Dani Sordo moved 7.1 seconds closer to P1 and now just 16.5 seconds separates first to fifth.

Suffering from his position as first on the road today, the best Latvala could manage was stage times between third and fifth, but it was still good enough to keep him top.

"It has been harder being first on the road than I thought it would be," Latvala stated. "The first stage was wet but the others were mostly dry and I couldn't find a rhythm. I lost time in the slow corners because I slid wide too often.

“This afternoon most of the stages are repeats so there should be a clean line and I will have the advantage of seeing the braking points. We'll make the car set-up harder in service to match the conditions."

Meanwhile the biggest mover was Loeb and with two stage wins this morning he moved from fifth to second, closing the gap to Latvala from 24.4 seconds down to just 3.5 seconds - almost half a second per kilometre.

“I had to really try hard. It was a very fast, very beautiful stage. I just keep pushing,” said Loeb. “I really enjoyed that one [SS16], very muddy and fast! I am just happy to take time from Latvala.”

Hirvonen claimed the win on the day's first stage, Dayco 1, jumping him up to third place in the process and closing the gap to team-mate Latvala from 23.6 to 7.9 seconds: “We went wide at one point and I hit a mailbox. It is very, very slippery. This rally is going to be a big fight!” he predicted.

Ogier has suffered most from the slippery conditions. Second on the road today, his Citroen lost 15 seconds to the leader on Dayco 1, the day's longest stage at 20.31km but it wasn't all down to the conditions.

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