Citroen driver Mikko Hirvonen has extended his overnight lead on Rally de Portugal this morning.
Hirvonen began the day 36.3 seconds up on his closest rival and he managed to gradually increase that margin, posting the fourth fastest time in SS11 and two fifth best times in SS12 and SS13. As a result he now returns to service with his cushion up to 47.3 seconds.
Speaking after SS13, Mikko said that while conditions are less perilous today compared to Friday, it is still quite muddy and tricky: “It was slippery, but it is for everyone that's why we're not losing too much time,” said the Finn. “It was good though. If I need to use hard tyres [on the repeat loop] it'll be impossible to drive, but if that's what I've got to do then I have to do it.”
“The conditions were not as tricky as yesterday,” added Hirvonen's co-driver, Jarmo Lehtinen back in service. “But there were still some surprises. The last two were slippery but easier – you could see the road, which helps.
“There is a long way to go – I cannot say there is no pressure but we were on the safe side this morning and we managed to extend our lead a little. But there is still one and a half days to go.”
Mads Ostberg meanwhile is now second in his Adapta WRT-run Fiesta RS WRC, having moved ahead of Evgeny Novikov in the very first stage today. He was keen to push for the win, but his engine dropped to three cylinders in SS13.
“No big dramas today. We had some engine problems on the last stage but it went according to plan on the first two. We took time from Novikov which was the intention and we hoped to take some time from Mikko but that didn't happen. If the weather stays like this, we will focus on second position but if the weather changes, we can think about Mikko,” he noted.
Behind, Novikov is 22 seconds adrift in third and he had some engine issues of his own to contend with in SS12 and SS13: “I'm still struggling with a misfire on the engine,” he said after Loule 1. “We'll get it looked at in service. We also lost the sump-guard in the water splash which is still under the car somewhere.”
Patrik Sandell is next up and fourth in his Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC car, albeit almost 3 minutes adrift now of that final podium place.
After Sandell, Martin Prokop remains fifth, with Nasser Al-Attiyah sixth and only 0.2 seconds off the Ford ahead of him.
Of the rest Dennis Kuipers and Peter van Merksteijn Jr lie seventh and eighth, with Petter Solberg now ninth. After going off yesterday in SS6, Solberg re-started today under the Rally 2 regulations – along with his Ford team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala and a number of other runners – and the Norwegian has has hauled himself back into contention, setting the pace in two of this morning's three stages: “It is going very well. It is just a real shame about yesterday,” 'Hollywood' remarked.