Mikko Hirvonen has extended his lead during the second afternoon of Rally Sweden to secure a lead of more than 16 seconds over Sebastien Loeb – with five stages left to run on Sunday.
Hirvonen had held the lead overnight but saw Loeb trim his advantage to barely four seconds by the mid-day service, but Hirvonen then went on the attack on the repeat run through the stages in the afternoon.
Despite concerns about tyre wear on the second run through the tests, Hirvonen pushed through SS13 to extend his lead over Loeb by 2.7 seconds and then went nearly eight seconds quicker than the Frenchman on the following stage having elected to change his front tyres.
Loeb ran through SS14 on the same tyres before switching ahead of SS15, but he lost more time on the repeat run through Frederiksberg to hand Hirvonen a lead of some 23 seconds. While Loeb went quicker than Hirvonen through the short Hagfors Sprint stage that brought the day to an end, it is the Ford man who will lead the way into day three.
"I had a great feeling on the two big stages this afternoon when I took time from Loeb," Hirvonen said. "I had a tyre strategy and it worked but it required great commitment. There was a lot of gravel on the roads and conditions were tricky for the tyres because stud retention was so difficult. My lead is far from comfortable and Loeb will push me very hard tomorrow.
"It's great fun to be involved in such a big fight for the lead. I didn't think first in the start order today would create any problems and it didn't. My only mistake came when I stalled at the start of the final stage this morning but it only cost a couple of seconds."
Behind the top two, there was a change for third place after Dani Sordo ran into problems on SS15, with the Spaniard forced to stop to clear snow that was preventing air from getting into the engine compartment and causing the engine to overheat. The loss of a minute clearing the blockage allowed Jari-Matti Latvala through into third place after a solid afternoon for the Ford number two – who was quickest on both SS13 and SS15.
Sebastien Ogier runs in a lonely fifth place at the end of the second day despite being another driver to struggle with his tyres during the afternoon loop and is comfortably clear of the first of the Stobart Ford Focus', with Henning Solberg rounding out the top six.
Solberg's team-mate Matthew Wilson managed to battle his way back ahead of Mads Ostberg in the battle for seventh place on the opening stage of the afternoon while Petter Solberg now lies back in the points in ninth place after battling back up the order following his day one issues. SWRC leader PG Andersson rounds out the top ten.