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Hirvonen keeps title hopes alive in Japan

  • Story Highlights
  • Finn Mikko Hirvonen holds the overall lead after the second day of the Japan Rally
  • The Ford driver has a 15.5 second lead over compatriot Jari-Matti Latvala
  • Championship leader Sebastien Loeb of France is third and heading for title
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(CNN) -- Mikko Hirvonen kept his slender world title hopes alive by continuing to lead the Rally of Japan after Saturday's four special stages.

Hirvonen is once again showing excellent form in Japan but his title hopes remain slim.

Hirvonen, driving a Ford, won two of the legs to hold a 15.5 second lead over second-place Jari-Matti Latvala of Finland.

Championship leader Sebastien Loeb, who has won the last five races and can wrap up the title again if he finishes third on better on Sunday, was 53.5 seconds behind Hirvonen in third place.

The Rally Japan is the 14th of 15 races in the world championship.

Loeb leads the standings with 106 points, 14 ahead of Hirvonen, who won in Japan last year.

"It was quite a nerve-wracking day. The roads were much faster and it took a while for me to get used to that after the narrow, twisty stages yesterday," Finn Hirvonen told the Associated Press.

"I came to Japan looking for a victory but even if I achieve that tomorrow, it looks like that won't help my championship challenge now," he added.

"Tomorrow's stages are soft but they shouldn't be as slippery, so I hope we have an easier time."

Loeb again drove conservatively in his Citroen as he closes on a record fifth consecutive world title.

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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