Mikko Hirvonen (pictured right) has quashed any hopes his rivals had that he can be caught on the Monte Carlo Rally by insisting he backed off on purpose on Fridayís opening stage.
Hirvonenís time on the 30.42-mile test this morning was 22 seconds slower than stage winner
Sebastien Ogier managed. As a result Hirvonenís lead over Skoda driver Juho Hanninen was trimmed to 44.1 seconds, while Ogier is just four seconds behind Hanninen in third.
ďThere was snow in the stage and I didnít want to take any risks so I took it cautiously and eased off the pace just slightly to preserve the lead I have,Ē said Hirvonen, who is driving an M-Sport Fiesta S2000 in competition for the first time.
There are four stages left to run on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge opener with the first from Peira Cava to La Bollene Vesubie set to get underway at 1915hrs local time tonight.