Mikko Hirvonen increased his lead over last year’s winner, Sebastien Loeb, to 32 seconds after Saturday's nine special stages of the Rally of Finland. The Ford Focus driver is on course for his maiden victory in this rally on Sunday.
AFP - Mikko Hirvonen tightened his grip on the Rally of Finland on Saturday when he opened up a 32sec lead on the gravel roads near his home town of Jyvaskyla.
The Ford Focus driver, who leads the world championship by one point, is on course to take his first ever Rally of Finland victory on Sunday's final day after winning six of the day's nine stages.
Hirvonen extend his overnight advantage over five-time champion Sebastien Loeb in second in a Citroen.
The 29-year-old Frenchman's hopes suffered a major setback when his car suffered a damaged wheel when it hit a pothole.
Earlier, Hirvonen had set a blistering pace winning the first five of the day's nine special stages.
Hirvonen started the day under the rain with just three seconds on his Citroen rival.
But the Finn proved more adept at negotiating the home terrain and his rival's attacks as Loeb lost 13 seconds after his pothole clash.
"It's been really good, everything has gone as planned," said Hirvonen.
"It's a shame that Sebastien had a problem, otherwise we could have had a big fight all the way through. The plan for Sunday is to continue like I am now. With this lead I don't need to take quite so many risks as I have been."
Loeb admitted his accident had ruined his chances of victory.
"There's nothing else to do but try to finish now," he said. "I took a lot of risks, but Mikko was always in front. I was a bit unlucky to have a puncture; I was just in a rut in the middle of the road. After that it was too difficult to try and catch him. Now the game is over."
Some 40 seconds behind the lead pair, Jari-Matti Latvala and Dani Sordo remained locked in a day-long battle for third.
Former world Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen rolled his privately-entered Abarth Grande Punto S2000 on the day's last stage.
Despite being out of the race, the Ferrari star was unhurt.
Date created : 2009-08-01