Mikko Hirvonen has pulled away from the field in the Monte Carlo Rally, extending his lead to over a minute despite a puncture on this morning's second stage.
The Finn drove on the punctured tire for the final five kilometers of SS6 and felt he could have been half a minute faster, but still remained 44 seconds clear of Juho Hanninen (Skoda) – who had moved up to second when Kris Meeke (Peugeot UK) crashed out on ice just one kilometer into today's first stage – in the overall standings.
Hirvonen was still determined to charge on SS7, the leg's first dry and snow-free stage, and duly won it by a commanding 23 seconds.
"I really tried to push hard because I had a puncture on the previous stage and I had to make up some time," said Hirvonen. "This is really good. But this is Monte Carlo, it's so unpredictable. Conditions are changing all the time and people have different tires all the time. You just have to keep going as fast as you can."
Skoda's Nicolas Vouilloz and Peugeot's Sebastien Ogier both won stages this morning, too, and are battling for third. Vouilloz was quickest on the icy SS5 and second to Hirvonen on SS7, but lost ground in the heavy snow of SS6 – where Ogier was comfortably fastest. That put Ogier, who had fallen to eighth yesterday when he went off on snow placed by spectators, briefly into third place before Vouilloz regained the position with his SS7 performance.
Inexperienced Peugeot duo Bruno Magalhaes and Franz Wittmann have driven sensibly to establish themselves in fifth and sixth places ahead of Stephane Sarrazin (Peugeot), whose comeback drive after yesterday's puncture was hampered when he spent two minutes stuck in a snowbank within sight of the SS6 finish.
Guy Wilks is now eighth for Skoda UK, with Toni Gardemeister falling to ninth after a puncture left his Astra-run Abarth struggling on three studded tires and one stud-less wheel for most of the loop.
Having dropped to 26th with his puncture on yesterday's first stage, Jan Kopecky mounted a charge today and got the third Skoda back up to seventh. The Czech driver was the only man close to Ogier in SS6's snow, but then another puncture struck on SS7 causing significant front end damage and putting him back to 10th.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 2h24m37.0s
2. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 1m08.5s
3. Nicolas Vouilloz Skoda + 1m37.6s
4. Sebastien Ogier Peugeot + 1m41.9s
5. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot + 5m03.2s
6. Franz Wittmann Peugeot + 5m23.7s
7. Stephane Sarrazin Peugeot + 5m37.2s
8. Guy Wilks Skoda + 6m00.7s
9. Toni Gardemeister Abarth + 6m41.4s
10. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 6m47.2s