Rallying: Hirvonen's home win takes him closer to title

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The Independent Online

Mikko Hirvonen easily held off Sebastien Loeb on the final day to win the Rally Finland yesterday and extend his overall championship lead.

The 29-year-old Finn covered the 23 special stages totalling 215.75 miles in two hours, 50 minutes, 40.9 seconds in his Ford. Loeb, the defending world champion from France, was 25.1 seconds behind in second in his Citroen. Jari-Matti Latvala of Finland was third, with Daniel Sordo of Spain in fourth.

Hirvonen entered the day with a 32-second lead, and extended it by 3.5 seconds on the first 6.7-mile stage to all but secure his third straight win this season.

"All the time we were able to win some seconds on Loeb," said Hirvonen, who won his first rally on home soil. "Since [I was] a small boy I have read the list of legends who have won here, and now we have a victory in our pocket too. [It's] great to be an extension to that list. This is the rally all Finnish drivers want to win the most."

Hirvonen now has 68 points at the top of the standings, with Loeb at 65. "It is a long way to the title still – there are difficult events left," Hirvonen said.

The 35-year-old Loeb has won the last five world titles, and also won last year's event in Finland. "It was not a win for us [yesterday], but it was good to score some points," the Frenchman said.

Sordo is third overall with 44 points, ahead of Latvala on 31. Hirvonen won 10 of the 23 special stages, Loeb seven, Latvala five and the promising Frenchman Sebastien Ogier had one stage win.

Ferrari's former Formula 1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, making his WRC debut in Finland, retired on Saturday after rolling his Abarth Grande Punto S2000 off the road.

The series will finish with events in Australia (in September) Spain and Wales (both in October).