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2012-03-10 07:17

SURGE FROM CITROEN: Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen picked up a small lead during Friday's WRC stages near Leon in Mexico. Image: AFP

Leon, Mexico - Finland's Mikko Hirvonen carved out a narrow 0.6sec gap over Citroen team mate and defending World champion Sebastien Loeb after Friday's opening five stages of the Rally of Mexico.

Action on the road, however, was later overshadowed when stage nine had to be cancelled when spectators started hurling stones at the cars.

Norway's Mads Ostberg, in a Ford Fiesta, was almost 40sec off the pace in third with young Belgian Thierry Neuville, in another Citroen, 45sec back before the start of Friday's later action.


Stage nine in the north of Mexico at Guanajuato was cancelled after drivers complained about fans' dangerous behaviour when the stretch was first run in the morning as stage five.

The windscreen on Neuville's Citroen was shattered.

"A spectator threw a stone at us when I was driving in sixth gear," he said. “It was really hard and knocked me completely out of my rhythm. A kilometre further on I came across a dog in the middle of the road. I was completely lost."
Ford's two factory drivers, Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg, struggled at the back of the field in the morning session, virtually a minute and a half off the lead after a series of problems in their Fiestas.

Solberg, the overnight leader, had two punctures, while a broken front suspension, caused by striking a rock, cost Latvala top spot on stage five and dropped him to eighth overall, one place behind Solberg.

But there were no such problems for Hirvonen who impressed on his first outing on a gravel track in his factory Citroen.

"The stages are extremely difficult but it's been okay for us with no problems," Hirvonen said. "I'm not planning major changes because I'm very happy with the car."



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