Ford Abu Dhabi WRT number one Mikko Hirvonen almost doubled his lead on Rally Sweden this morning as the opening round in the 2011 World Rally Championship heads for its conclusion.
Hirvonen began the day just 7.4 seconds up on Mads Ostberg, with Petter Solberg, Jari-Matti Latvala and Sebastien Ogier also in touch. Indeed with the top five covered by 15.8 seconds, the stage looked set for a nailing biting finale.
However, Hirvonen had other ideas and promptly set the pace in all three tests this morning to head to back to service in Hagfors with his cushion up to 13.7 seconds: "It was a perfect run," said the Finn, "My driving was just perfect. I try - I really try now [to win]."
Ostberg, who was second in SS17 and SS19 and third in SS18, was philosophical about losing ground: "I'm very, very happy," said the M-Sport Stobart Ford man. "I'm pushing really hard and I know Mikko is doing the same. But there is not much more I can do. If you lose time to these guys you must be aware that they are the absolutely best drivers in the world and I have the future ahead of me."
Petter Solberg meanwhile remains third, but he is now 30.5 seconds off the lead having struggled with a front damper issue: “The car is very difficult to handle,” 'Hollywood' remarked after SS19, “It has a life of its own.”
Further back Sebastien Ogier has moved up to fourth and ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, despite picking up a puncture towards the end of the opening test. Latvala lost out after hitting a snow bank in that same stage and also had intercom issues in Rammen 1.
Of the rest, Sebastien Loeb is a lonely sixth after his woes on day one and the Frenchman is just pacing himself to the end: “We had a little bit of snow dust [in the last test] but that wasn't a big problem. We will just go to the finish now - no pushing,” he confirmed.
Per-Gunnar Andersson and Kimi Raikkonen are seventh and eighth, the former continuing his fightback and overhauling 'the ice-man' in Torntorp 1. Khalid Al-Qassimi and Matt Wilson complete the top ten, split by just 0.4 seconds, both having had a less than perfect morning. Al-Qassimi hit a snowbank, while Wilson picked up a 10 second penalty for a jump-start.
In the Production Car World Rally Championship, Martin Semerad is still comfortably on course for the class victory, as he has been since Anders Grondal retired in SS12 on Saturday. Semerad lies over 5 minutes up on Yuriy Protasov, with Nicolas Fuchs third.
The action now continues at 12.09 hours, with a repeat-run through the 19.21 km Torntorp test [SS20]. It is then on to Rammen [SS21] at 13.31 hours, before the concluding Power Stage [SS22], which will be broadcast live around the world and which will award bonus points to the three quickest drivers, starts at 15.08 hours [all times local].
Rally Sweden: Overall standings after Stage 19 (Top 10):
1. Mikko Hirvonen
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC 2hours 59mins 02.7secs
2. Mads Ostberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 13.7secs
3. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 30.5secs
4. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 39.2secs
5. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 51.6secs
6. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +02mins 16.7secs
7. PG Andersson
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +06mins 08.8secs
8. Kimi Raikkonen
ICE 1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC +06mins 38.2secs
9. Khalid Al-Qassimi
Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +09mins 34.7secs
10. Matt Wilson
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +09mins 35.1secs
11. Patrik Sandell
Skoda Fabia S2000 +11mins 03.2secs
12. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta S2000 +11mins 42.5secs
13. Denis Kuipers
FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +12mins 39.9secs
14. Ken Block
Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +15mins 40.6secs
PWRC standings after Stage 19 (Top 3):
1. Martin Semerad
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 3hours 19mins 00.6secs
2. Yuriy Protasov
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +05mins 14.6secs
3. Nicolas Fuchs
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +06mins 43.1secs
SS8. Henning Solberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC Accident
SS8. Eyvind Brynildsen
Skoda Fabia S2000 Mechanical
SS12. Anders Grondal
Subaru Impreza STi Engine
EXC. Patrik Flodin
Subaru Impreza STi Excluded
all times unofficial