Mikko Hirvonen further extended his lead this morning on the Rally Sweden, the opening round in the 2010 World Rally Championship.

Hirvonen started the third and final leg with a 16.6 second advantage over Sebastien Loeb in his Ford Focus RS WRC car and he stretched that to 23.7 seconds during the opening two speed tests.

Mikko was second fastest through the 21.87km R?mmen, just 0.2 seconds behind his French rival. However, the 29-year-old Finn was 7.3 seconds quicker than Loeb through the following 23.41km V?rmulls?sen to leave Hirvonen in a happy frame of mind as he returned to Hagfors for service.

"It has been a great morning so far," said Hirvonen. "I'm pleased I've taken a few more seconds from Loeb to widen my lead, but I need to remain fully focused because conditions are going to be tricky on these two stages when they are repeated. The stage after service, which we are driving for the first time, should be better."

Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile holds third, and he is still comfortably up on Dani Sordo in fourth. With nothing to gain by attacking, Latvala opted for a cautious drive through the two stages and was fifth in R?mmen and third in V?rmulls?sen to return to service 60.8 seconds clear of P4.

"There's nothing special to report from the morning," said Latvala. "I wanted to go out and have a steady, clear run because I don't need to push. My times were good and I enjoyed it. I attacked hard yesterday and I think it was too much because I was going sideways and losing time. This morning I have been less aggressive and more precise and my times were good."

Further down the order there was no change in the top ten, with Sebastien Ogier fifth, followed by Henning Solberg, Matt Wilson, Mads Ostberg, Petter Solberg and SWRC leader PG Andersson.

Andersson continues to hold a dominant lead in the SWRC, 40 seconds up on Janne Touhino, with Martin Prokop third.

In the PWRC, Patrik Flodin retains the lead over Anders Grondal. Armindo Araujo lies third, a further 2.5 minutes back.

Overall standings after SS18 (Top 10):

1. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 02hours 39mins 13.0secs M
2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 23.7secs M
3. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +01mins 12.4secs M
4. Dani Sordo Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +02mins 13.2secs M
5. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +03mins 18.0secs M
6. Henning Solberg Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +04mins 57.3secs M
7. Matthew Wilson Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +06mins 40.0secs A8
8. Mads Ostberg Adapta Subaru Impreza WRC +08mins 20.5secs M
9. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +09mins 25.8secs A8
10. PG Andersson Skoda Fabia S2000 +10mins 28.9secs S


26. Marcus Gronholm Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +23mins 08.7secs M
32. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +37mins 18.6secs M

SWRC Standings after SS18 (Top 3):

1. PG Andersson Skoda Fabia S2000 02hours 49mins 41.9secs S
2. Janne Tuohino Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 41.2secs S
3. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 +02mins 27.9secs S

PWRC Standings after SS18 (Top 3):

1. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza 02hours 54mins 45.8secs P
2. Anders Grondal Subaru Impreza +01mins 15.6secs P
3. Armindo Araujo Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +04mins 04.0secs P