Midday wrap: Latvala leads top five battle
The halfway point of day two of the Rally Japan - the longest day of the rally by just three kilometres - delivered yet more drama.
Although Citroen privateer Petter Solberg arrived at midday service leading the event by 5.9 seconds, a 10-second jump start penalty incurred on SS13 has now dropped him to third overall.
The new leader is Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala who now has a 1.6 second advantage over Citroen's Sebastien Ogier. Solberg has been demoted to just over four seconds behind Latvala in third.
Solberg, who started the day in the lead, reported that he was feeling slightly better this morning after being laid low with a fever since Thursday. This certainly seemed to be the case, as he set fastest time on the opening stage.
The biggest loser on the 17.68-kilometre stage was Hirvonen, who dropped around 10 seconds with a spin towards the end of the stage that dropped him 21 seconds behind Solberg. "At least we're still in the fight," said Hirvonen afterwards - but the Finn had put himself firmly in the middle of a danger zone with Sebastien Ogier just 2.2 seconds behind him in third and Latvala only 0.5 seconds behind Ogier in fourth.
It was all the motivation that Latvala needed. He went fastest on the second stage of the morning to suddenly make up two places and promote himself to the runner-up spot. Latvala had a big moment on the third stage of the day due to a mistake in his pace notes, but survived to hang onto second place by just 1.6 seconds over Ogier - which then unexpectedly became first as he reached service.
"Petter's penalty certainly makes it interesting!" said Latvala. "My start position helped today. I thought that road position wouldn't make much difference but the last two stages in particular had a lot of loose gravel on the surface."
Ogier, Hirvonen and Sordo are still in the thick of the victory scrap too, with the top five covered by just 20 seconds. "It's going to be a big fight so I'm looking forward to that," said Ogier - who was second-fastest on SS13.
Sordo also was up for the challenge, having resolved the gearbox oil leak that afflicted him yesterday. The Spaniard won the last stage before service, while Sebastien Loeb remained mysteriously off the pace in sixth place - by his high standards at least. Henning Solberg was another man holding station to maintain his untroubled seventh place.
Matthew Wilson lost eighth place after going off just one kilometre from the end of the day's first stage. The car was undamaged but firmly stuck on a bank, meaning that the Englishman will not return until tomorrow under the super rally rules. This benefited Kimi Raikkonen, who had a much better run, setting three eighth-fastest times to consolidate his eighth place overall.
There's no change at the top of the Super 2000 and Production Car standings, with Jari Ketomaa in 10th overall leading the S-WRC by a minute in his Ford Fiesta and Patrik Flodin's Subaru occupying 12th overall with a comfortable P-WRC lead.