16 February 2007
Hirvonen leads as battles rage.
After becoming the first person to win a stage of Rally Norway as a World Rally Championship event, Mikko Hirvonen also claimed the honour of becoming the first man to lead a leg of the rally after maintaining his advantage through the opening eight stages.
The Finn signalled his intention from the start as he stormed through the opening test over eleven seconds quicker than anyone else to establish an early lead that he would then successfully defend over the course of the day. Although he lost a little time on SS2 before the return to service, the second run through the 30 kilometre Loten test again saw Hirvonen go quickest and over the remaining stages, his lead was extended from nine seconds to more than 15 over team leader Marcus Gronholm. Of the eight stages that made up the leg, Hirvonen was only outside the top three on one occasion.
While things went to plan for Hirvonen, the same couldn't be said for team-mate Gronholm, although the Rally Sweden winner still overnights in second place. After three stages, Gronholm had closed to within ten seconds of Hirvonen and was nearly twenty clear of third placed Sebastien Loeb but could only watch on during the afternoon as a run of quick times from the Frenchman closed that gap down to less than two seconds.
Loeb was another man who had his fair share of problems, although a run of four fastest stage times in five stages during the afternoon not only saw him close on Gronholm but also half the advantage Hirvonen had held over him after the second run through Loten. It was that stage, the longest of the day and second longest of the rally, where Loeb lost all his time, posting the fourth fastest time on the first passage and fifth fastest time on the second passage while the Fords ahead led the way. However, showing that the C4 can get the job done on the Norwegian stages, Loeb then rattled off a series of quick times in the afternoon, which included pacing the sixth special stage despite overshooting a junction.
The top three are comfortably clear of fourth placed Petter Solberg, who leads the home challenge in fourth place in his Impreza. 'Hollywood' has lay down in seventh place heading into the mid-day remote service halt, but during the afternoon he climbed up the order, despite bending his steering with an off SS6. Solberg has an advantage of nearly 20 seconds as he looks to defend the place into the second leg, but behind him battle is set for fifth place, with just seven seconds covering the next three drivers.
Currently fifth is another Scandanavian driver in the shape of Toni Gardemeister although his Mitsubishi was in the wars on more than one occasion. Gardemeister went off on both SS3 and SS8 but is still holding off Gigi Galli and Henning Solberg for position. Italian Galli had looked to be a man on the move shortly after the morning service when he posted a series of leading stage times to climb up to fourth, but the final three stages of the afternoon saw the Aimont run Xsara drop of the pace and saw Galli fall behind both Solberg Jr and Gardemeister in the overall standings. Henning, viewed by many as a possible rally winner having taken victory in the candidate event last season, lost time on SS5 but despite problems during the afternoon the home favourite was able to make it back to service.
Manfred Stohl rounds out the points scorers in the OMV Citroen while Chris Atkinson is just over ten seconds behind in ninth. Jari-Matti Latvala completes the top ten although the youngster would have been fourth had it not been for penalties totally a minute and a half after he was late out of the morning service when the Stobart team was forced to change the steering rack on his Focus.
Of the rest, Daniel Carlsson is eleventh in the second OMV entry, while Daniel Sordo looks unlikely to help Citroen add to its manufacturers' points total in 14th – two places ahead of Matthew Wilson and three clear of Xavier Pons. On his debut in a WRC car at world level, Guy Wilks in 18th while Jan Kopecky was never on the ultimate pace in the lone Skoda Fabia and lies 22nd, having dropped as low as 27th after an off into a snowbank on SS3.
In the Junior Rally Championship, Per-Gunnar Andersson holds a lonely lead having ended the leg well over two minutes clear of closest rival Patrick Sandell The reigning Junior champion is even more lonely in second, with an advantage of nearly seven minutes over the Fiesta of third placed Trond Svenkerud. Urmo Aava, the only person able to match Andersson, was forced out of the leg and plummeted to ninth as a result.
The action resumes at 08.09 local time on Saturday with the longest stage of the event, the 44.28km run through Elverum.
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