The popular Finn holds an advantage of 1m28.2s at the completion of Saturday’s six stages at the wheel of the Citroen DS3 WRC he shares with co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen.
Hirvonen has yet to win a round of the FIA World Rally Championship with the French make but concedes his prospects look good heading into the two runs of the 8.24-kilometre Gallura stage on Sunday.
“It’s been a long day and we’ve had to be careful with all the rocks on the road but we’ve had time to go around them and had no problems,” said Hirvonen. “The car has been perfect, in fact it’s been a good day at the office. Sure it’s not over yet but we’re looking really good and we don’t have to push tomorrow.”
Evgeny Novikov is on course to equal his previous career best of second place with M-Sport team-mate Ott Tanak heading for his maiden podium in a similar Ford Fiesta RS WRC. The youngsters have once again performed largely without fault, although Novikov suffered a minor scare when he overshot a junction on stage 11.
Mads Ostberg has excelled by climbing from seventh at the start of the day to hold fourth overnight in his Adapta Fiesta. The Norwegian suffered extensive delay with a broken rear differential on Friday but a quartet of stage wins today has fired him back up the leaderboard, albeit almost 90 seconds behind Tanak.
Sebastien Ogier was a stunning fourth overall in his Super 2000-specification Skoda Fabia, slipped to sixth before outpacing Chris Atkinson on the day’s final stage to move into fifth. The Frenchman said he was on the limit while Australian Atkinson, in a MINI John Cooper Works WRC, admitted to having to back off after almost going off the road on a handful of occasions.
Andreas Mikkelsen is seventh in the second Volkswagen Motorsport-run Skoda with Martin Prokop eighth despite yet more problems in his privateer Fiesta. Factory Ford driver Petter Solberg, who restarted under Rally 2 rules after retiring on Friday, is ninth with Karl Kruuda 10th in his S2000 Fiesta.
Luca Pedersoli, the sole Italian World Rally Car exponent, is 11th and one place away from landing a world championship point on his first start in the series for more than a decade.
Like Ford team-mate Petter Solberg, Jari-Matti Latvala restarted under Rally 2 and claimed a stage win on his way to 15th at the overnight halt. “It’s been a good day and I’m happy how things are going today,” said Latvala. “I’m getting the feeling back and enjoying the driving again. This is important.”
Brazilian Paulo Nobre survived a spin and a trip onto two wheels in his MINI to complete day three in 19th overall. Thierry Neuville has battled the pain of second-degree burns to his hands to complete in 21st in his Qatar World Rally Team entry. The Belgian reckons he could have been faster had he not been running so high up the order on the slippery gravel stages.