01 Nov 08
Mikko Hirvonen brought his Ford Focus cleanly through the slippery 9.9km Kina test (SS14) to complete Saturday morning’s loop of four stages with a rally lead of 16.9sec.
The stage was won by the Munchi's Ford team driver Henning Solberg who holds seventh place overall.
Back at the Sapporo Dome for the 30-minute lunchtime service, Hirvonen reflected on his day so far. “After the rain last night the first two stages were drier than I thought but the next two were very wet and slippery," he said. "Kamuycep was extremely soft and I lost my rhythm there a little after I had to slow when two deer ran across the road in front of me. I'll continue to push hard and try to increase the gap over Jari-Matti because this victory isn't in my pocket yet.”
Hirvonen’s BP Ford team-mate holds second, and made the position a good deal more secure after a stage win on SS13 - the third test of the day. “I drove cautiously through the first two and then stepped up my pace," explained Latvala. "I wanted to find the right balance and not risk too much before increasing my speed when I found my confidence. It wasn't an easy morning, especially in the wet sections. My car is good, but maybe I’ll change the dampers now because the roads are getting drier."
Latvala will begin the afternoon loop 16.9sec ahead of third placed Sebastien Loeb, but still wary of a possible attack from the Frenchman, “I’m still a little bit worried because of course they [Citroen] want to take more manufacturers’ points, and somehow you never really know what Seb’s going to do!”
Loeb, however, seemed content to take the final podium place. “It’s not a comfortable position yet but I hope we can keep third,” he said. “At the moment it looks too difficult to try and beat the Fords but I have to keep pushing to stay ahead of Petter. For the moment it’s okay.”
Peter Solberg holds fourth in the first of the Subaru World Rally Team cars and arrived at the service park still delighted by his stage win on SS12. “After such a long time without one it’s almost unbelievable!” he said. “The stage we won was different compared to the others - it was fast and wide and quite dry. On the next two it was more slippery, wet and narrow and we lost time again - but at least we were on the pace in ‘normal’ conditions.”
Petter’s team-mate Chris Atkinson rounded out the top five positions but hadn’t had such a positive morning. “For some reason I didn’t have the same balance in the car as I did yesterday,” he said. “It’s strange because we didn’t change the set-up at all. Maybe some components aren’t working properly. We’ll have a look now.”