Mikko Hirvonen has finished day three of Rally Italia Sardegna with a commanding lead and now just two short stages stand between him and his first win with Citroen.
Hirvonen had no need to push during Saturday's third leg and with over a minute in hand, his biggest challenge was just keeping the concentration up and not making any mistakes.
This morning on the opening loop, he was fourth quickest in SS9, fifth in SS10 and third in SS11, increasing his lead by 9.1 seconds to 1 minute 18.7 seconds. On the repeat loop he again pulled further ahead, and posting the fourth best time in SS12, the sixth best in SS13 and the fifth fastest in SS14. The Finn will now go into Sunday 1 minute 28.2 seconds up on Evgeny Novikov and barring a disaster, looks to have the victory in the bag.
“It has been a long day,” Hirvonen reflected. “We tried to be careful and go around the rocks but it was hard to keep the concentration. Still it has been a good day at the office. We still have those two stages to do tomorrow and it is not over yet. But at the moment everything is looking good. We are just 16 kilometres away from our first win in a Citroen.”
Novikov meanwhile also ran well and despite being equally comfortable in P2, he set the pace in SS10, just to show what he can do. The Russian had no real problems, apart from a small spin in SS11: “It was a very good day for us, the aim is to keep the second position and so far it has been great,” he said.
Behind, Ott Tanak is third in the sister M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC, 52.4 seconds off P3 and with almost a 1.5 minute cushion over Mads Ostberg in fourth: “It has been really difficult,” conceded the Estonian. “This morning we tried a bit harder but the afternoon was really tough for us. It's really important for me to finish in third now and get my first [WRC] podium.”
Further back, Ostberg shined as he hauled himself back from seventh overall to fourth. The Norwegian slipped back on Friday afternoon with a rear differential failure, but with his Adapta WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC restored to full health, he whizzed through today's six stages, topping the times in four of them and posting a second and a third best time in the other two.
“I am very happy,” Ostberg stated. “Everything has been working very well. We pushed quite a lot after what happened on Friday and we scored quite a few stage wins, I am very pleased about that”.
Ostberg's form demoted Sebastien Ogier and Chris Atkinson down to fifth and sixth respectively. Ogier slipped behind Atkinson in SS12 this afternoon, only to re-take the place in SS14 and now just 3.9 seconds separate the two setting up a good final day fight between the VW Motorsport-run Skoda Fabia 2000 and the WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC car.
“It was a good afternoon, we're still battling with Atkinson for fifth position and tomorrow I'll push hard,” Ogier said.
“We made some changes for this afternoon but there's still room for improvement,” Atkinson added.