Mikko Hirvonen has asserted his superiority in the Rally Poland by pulling away from the chasing Jari-Matti Latvala and Dani Sordo on the second loop of stages.
Knowing that a win on the event could thrust him into the championship lead after Sebastien Loeb's disastrous brush with a tree stump this morning, Hirvonen mounted a charge this afternoon. He beat the rest of the field by eight seconds in the 11km Pianki stage alone, to his pursuers' amazement, and ended the leg 8.9sec ahead of his Ford teammate Latvala, who trimmed a little time back on SS7.
"It was a fantastic day, I really enjoyed it, and the stages were not too bad even second time through," said Hirvonen. "We're really having fun."
Latvala said at the lunchtime service that he had no intention of beating Hirvonen to what would be a crucial victory, and was focused on resisting Sordo rather than chasing his countryman. "Mikko was setting unbelievable times on the second to last stage, he was unbelievably fast, but otherwise it was a really good day," said Latvala. "Sordo is pushing quite hard. He's not letting up so we need to keep him behind."
Sordo fell 28.1sec behind Latvala during the loop and admitted he was not confident in his Citroen's handling as the stages wore down.
"I tried to go faster but it's really difficult with the ruts," he said. "The ruts in the road are really bad and the car is moving all the time. It's very important now that I don't make a mistake."
Petter Solberg has now moved up to fourth after star of the morning Andreas Mikkelsen slowed and then stopped on the day's final stage. Both Solberg siblings are into the top five, with Henning Solberg producing much better pace this afternoon following changes to his Stobart Ford's set-up at service, although the Norwegian was not content.
"I am still not happy because my car is not working as I want it to, but I am pushing absolutely all I can everywhere," said Solberg. "I cannot do more than I am now."
Solberg's pace has pushed Sebastien Ogier (Citroen Junior) down to sixth, with Matthew Wilson seventh and Conrad Rautenbach eighth in the second Junior team C4, just ahead of the Stobart team's local guest driver Krzysztof Holowczyc.
Mads Ostberg is a distant 10th, and ended the day furous at having had to stop to clear debris from the front of his Adapta Subaru for the second time in the leg.
"Overheating engine," he grimaced. "It's just some f***ing stupid design at the front of the car filling up with everything."
Dutch Renault driver Kevin Abbring has surprised himself by taking a shock lead in the Junior category, pulling away from home favourite Michal Kosciuszko, with Martin Prokop in third.Leading positions after leg one:
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 1h02m23.1s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 8.9s
3. Dani Sordo Citroen + 37.0s
4. Petter Solberg Citroen + 1m14.6s
5. Henning Solberg Ford + 1m21.5s
6. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 1m32.9s
7. Matthew Wilson Ford + 1m56.5s
8. Conrad Rautenbach Citroen + 2m31.5s
9. Krzysztof Holowczyc Ford + 2m39.8s
10. Mads Ostberg Subaru + 4m31.6s