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Hirvonen leads into afternoon rally stages


Fords hold sway at the top of the ladder in Rally New Zealand.

Mikko Hirvonen holds a 5.3-second lead as Rally New Zealand starts the second packet of three special stages in the western Waikato.

The Ford Focus RS driver is followed by his teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, and the Citroen C4 WRCs of Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo.

Loeb, running first on the road, is acting effectively as a road sweeper on special stages that are drier and dustier than had been expected after the rain of the past few weeks.

Subaru’s Chris Atkinson runs fifth, ahead of Francois Duval in a privateer Ford.

New Zealander Richard Mason is the top local in his BNT Subaru Impreza WRX STi after a sensational morning during which he was fastest Group N (standard production) driver on two of the three tests.

Mason set the 10th fastest time on the third stage, just 1.2 seconds slower than works driver Chris Atkinson’s Impreza WRC car.

He was ahead of Suzuki works driver Toni Gardemeister and Atkinson’s teammate, former world champion Petter Solberg.

NZ Championship points leader, Hayden Paddon (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) is second Kiwi after a mixed morning in which he struggled to find a rhythm in the Team Green Lancer.

Stewart Taylor (Evo 9) is third New Zealander, followed by Emma Gilmour (WRX STi) who has produced real pace despite overheating brakes and a down-on-power engine.

However, Chris West, who had shown strong pace early in the rally struck major problems in the third stage when his Lancer’s steering wheel broke.

West completed the stage using the steering wheel hub to change the front wheel’s direction. West lost a large chunk of time and has dropped to 26th overall and fifth Kiwi.

He had been second New Zealander behind Mason, with Paddon closing in after West had a spin on Stage 2.

Log in for more from Rally NZ during this afternoon and evening.

Newsflash: Subaru works driver Chris Atkinson has dropped one and a half minutes after rolling in the fourth stage, the second run through Pirongia. He is still running. Sebastien Loeb has begun his fightback on the day's fourth test, beating both Fords to win Pirongia 2.

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