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Hirvonen stretches lead slightly in Australia

28 October 2006

BP Ford number two driver, Mikko Hirvonen remains on top following the second leg of the Rally Australia on Saturday, the fourteenth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship.

Mikko began the day around 26 seconds up on Petter Solberg and while he won the first two tests and stretched his advantage slightly to 28 seconds, the Norwegian came back at him in SS15 and cut the margin to 25. Mikko finished the first loop though with a flourish taking his third stage win of the day and then headed back to service once again 26 seconds or so in front.

Although Hirvonen reckoned the afternoon stages would be tougher, he managed to increase his cushion to 29 seconds, despite losing out to the Subaru driver in SS17. Indeed Mikko was 4.4 seconds quicker through the final 'proper' test of the day and increased his lead even more following the fifth and sixth runs through the Perth City Super Special this evening. He will now start the third day with a 32.3 second cushion.

Solberg meanwhile, try as he did, was unable to make any in roads into the Finn's advantage and they pretty much matched each others pace throughout the 125 competitive kilometres that made up the second day. Although 'Hollywood' enjoyed the battle and maintained that he still has a chance of grabbing the victory, based on today's results, it is unlikely he will be able to do much on Sunday, assuming Mikko doesn't have any sort of technical issues.

Manfred Stohl moved up into third following SS13 this morning, the second test of the day. The Austrian began the leg 8.2 seconds behind Xavier Pons, but he cut that right back to 2.7 seconds after the first test, before going ahead on Bannister Central 1. Stohl then proceeded to build a lead over the Spaniard and ended the leg more than 20 seconds ahead in his OMV Peugeot Norway WRT 307. Manfred reported that he had no issues all day.

Pons was disappointed to drop back and while he too had no problems as such, he admitted that he just didn't have the 'right feeling' in his Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC and was unable to match Stohl. Indeed Pons was sixth fastest through all the forest tests bar SS14, when he managed the joint third best time with Solberg.

Furtherdown the order, Marcos Ligato is now fifth overall. Ligato began the day in tenth overall but put in a charge and managed to win six of the seven forest stages in the PCWRC and as a result he now leads the Production Car WRC category, over 25 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala.

BP Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm is seventh - having posted five quickest stages times, while moving up the order from 18th overnight. After his off on the first 'proper' test on Friday [SS3], the Finn is now back in the points, although he will need to finish at least fourth to keep his title hopes alive. An impossible mission, unless one of the top four runners has some sort of problem.

Aki Teiskonen is on course for the final place on the PCWRC podium and the final WRC point in eighth, while Dean Herridge and Mirco Baldacci complete the top ten, the former having dropped down from fifth after set-up problems and opting for the wrong tyres on the opening loop. He also had gearbox problems this afternoon. Herridge is now around a minute off Ligato, from being 40 seconds or so in front of the Mitsubishi driver at the end of leg one.

BP Ford number two driver, Mikko Hirvonen remains on top following the second leg of the Rally Australia on Saturday, the fourteenth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship.

Mikko began the day around 26 seconds up on Petter Solberg and while he won the first two tests and stretched his advantage slightly to 28 seconds, the Norwegian came back at him in SS15 and cut the margin to 25. Mikko finished the first loop though with a flourish taking his third stage win of the day and then headed back to service once again 26 seconds or so in front.

Although Hirvonen reckoned the afternoon stages would be tougher, he managed to increase his cushion to 29 seconds, despite losing out to the Subaru driver in SS17. Indeed Mikko was 4.4 seconds quicker through the final 'proper' test of the day and increased his lead even more following the fifth and sixth runs through the Perth City Super Special this evening. He will now start the third day with a 32.3 second cushion.

Solberg meanwhile, try as he did, was unable to make any in roads into the Finn's advantage and they pretty much matched each others pace throughout the 125 competitive kilometres that made up the second day. Although 'Hollywood' enjoyed the battle and maintained that he still has a chance of grabbing the victory, based on today's results, it is unlikely he will be able to do much on Sunday, assuming Mikko doesn't have any sort of technical issues.

Manfred Stohl moved up into third following SS13 this morning, the second test of the day. The Austrian began the leg 8.2 seconds behind Xavier Pons, but he cut that right back to 2.7 seconds after the first test, before going ahead on Bannister Central 1. Stohl then proceeded to build a lead over the Spaniard and ended the leg more than 20 seconds ahead in his OMV Peugeot Norway WRT 307. Manfred reported that he had no issues all day.

Pons was disappointed to drop back and while he too had no problems as such, he admitted that he just didn't have the 'right feeling' in his Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC and was unable to match Stohl. Indeed Pons was sixth fastest through all the forest tests bar SS14, when he managed the joint third best time with Solberg.

Furtherdown the order, Marcos Ligato is now fifth overall. Ligato began the day in tenth overall but put in a charge and managed to win six of the seven forest stages in the PCWRC and as a result he now leads the Production Car WRC category, over 25 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala.

BP Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm is seventh - having posted five quickest stages times, while moving up the order from 18th overnight. After his off on the first 'proper' test on Friday [SS3], the Finn is now back in the points, although he will need to finish at least fourth to keep his title hopes alive. An impossible mission, unless one of the top four runners has some sort of problem.

Aki Teiskonen is on course for the final place on the PCWRC podium and the final WRC point in eighth, while Dean Herridge and Mirco Baldacci complete the top ten, the former having dropped down from fifth after set-up problems and opting for the wrong tyres on the opening loop. He also had gearbox problems this afternoon. Herridge is now around a minute off Ligato, from being 40 seconds or so in front of the Mitsubishi driver at the end of leg one.

Toshi Arai took over the lead in the PCWRC category this morning, after Herridge was unable to match the pace of the front runners. The reigning Production champion was sitting pretty, 20 seconds up on Ligato until he rolled in SS17. Although the Japanese driver managed to get through the stage he lost bags of time and was forced to retire from the leg before SS18. It has yet to be confirmed if he will re-start under the SupeRally on Sunday.

Of the rest, Fumio Nutahara ended the day just outside the top ten, sixth in the PCWRC class. However the Japanese driver really needs to make up ground on Sunday if he is to put himself in with a real chance of taking this year's Production Car WRC title. Nutahaha currently lies 8 points behind PCWRC points' leader, Nasser Al-Attiyah, who is not in action this weekend, as Australia was not one of his nominated events.

Four of Friday's 'works' retirees re-started on Saturday under the SupeRally, namely Chris Atkinson, Daniel Sordo and Stobart VK duo, Luis-Perez Companc and Matthew Wilson. Like Gronholm, who also had problems on Friday, they have made some progress, Atkinson up from 37th overall to 17th in the second works Subaru Impreza, while Sordo is 30th, one place behind Companc. Wilson ended the day in 32nd position. OMV Peugeot's Henning Solberg was unable to rejoin the fold as his car was too badly damaged after he rolled in SS6 on Friday.

The final day on Sunday is the shortest of the rally, but still contains 103 kilometres of competition in the forests near Mundaring, east of Perth. Drivers leave the city at 06.00 and complete two identical loops of stages, split by service back at Langley Park, before the finish ceremony in Perth at 14.30.


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