“I was happy with the feeling of the car, the set-up was excellent and I thought my driving was perfect so I don't understand why I lost time this morning,” Hirvonen said. “This afternoon my pace was better, especially on the final two stages. The only thing I did differently was to rev the engine higher and use lower gears, so perhaps that helped.
“I kept my position though and that was important with championship points in mind. The Power Stage will be vital tomorrow, with bonus points available. It seems as if the outcome of the title will not be decided until the final round in Britain next month, so any points that I can take from the Power Stage could be crucial at the end of the season.”
Away from the top three, MINI WRT man Dani Sordo is fourth and he took his first stage win of the event in SS11, much to the delight of his home fans. However with Mikko 37.4 seconds ahead, the Spaniard looks unlikely to repeat his podium form from France and Germany.
“It has been a really good day, there have been no problems and I am very happy to have a fastest stage time,” Sordo noted. “The battle with Mikko for the podium is very tough, as he is a bit far away in terms of times and the gap is now 37 seconds. However, my plans for the final day are to push Mikko really hard and fight him for the podium. It would be really nice to be on the podium here on my home rally, but I am realistic about what I have to do.”
Sebastien Ogier rounds out the top five, having lost out with another puncture this morning, which cost him over 1.5 minutes. The Citroen youngster was not amused: “A very bad weekend for us, with a lot of bad luck,” he lamented. “We will try and finish as well as possible now and try to forget this event.”
Further back, Kris Meeke is sixth, leaving Ogier very much in a MINI sandwich. The Brit has opted for a more cautious approach in Spain and thus far it seems to be working.
“I can't complain at all about today,” Meeke commented. “Probably the most important thing for me is the times relative to the top guys got a lot better on the second pass through the stages, so I am very happy about that. I wasn't trying any harder, but it just shows how it comes together when you subconsciously learn the roads. The Michelin tyres were mega consistent, particularly on the long 46 kilometre one, and on the tarmac there was maximum grip.”
M-Sport Stobart Ford's Mads Ostberg and Henning Solberg lie seventh and eighth respectively, with Evgeny Novikov and the other Stobart entry of Matthew Wilson in positions 9 and 10. Novikov, who is using a Citroen DS3 WRC car in Catalunya, picked up a left rear puncture this afternoon in SS10, but he had sufficient time in hand not to lose tenth.
“I can tell you that it has been a lot more fun today compared to yesterday,” Ostberg said. “Everything has been good after service and we have a lot more feeling with the brakes now. The car has been working well too and the set-up is very good.
“We have been trying to push some more but I didn't want to overdo it as it would be silly to take any unnecessary risks. I'm very happy with the speed that we have at the moment. I feel that now we are at the same place as the Sunday in France so I will be looking to push more tomorrow and it will be interesting to see where that takes us.”