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Hirvonen switches focus to Catalunya
7 September 2009
Current Championship leader Mikko Hirvonen will benefit from an 'expanded' test ahead of the Rally de Espana next month and the first all-asphalt round since the season opener in Ireland.
Hirvonen had thought he had conceded two points to Sebastien Loeb after finishing second to the Frenchman in Australia on Sunday. However six hours after the official finish in Kingscliff he was handed the victory when the five-time world champion - and his Citroen team-mates, Dani Sordo and Sebastien Ogier, were all given one-minute penalties for a technical infringement.
Hirvonen thus finished 47.5 seconds up on Loeb and instead of going to Catalunya with only a one point lead in the drivers' championship, he will now take a five point cushion, something that gives his bid to take the crown a major boost.
"It's a shame that after such a thrilling battle for three days the result of the rally is decided in the stewards' room," Hirvonen reflected. "I suffered a points loss in Portugal two years ago, so I know how Sébastien, in particular, must feel.
"This decision has a major effect on the championship standings and we now go to Spain with a five point lead."
Hirvonen had to settle for third in Spain last year, after Loeb and Sordo dominated the event in their Citroen C4 WRCs. Indeed he only took P3 after then BP Ford Abu Dhabi team-mate, Francois Duval was instructed to let the 29-year-old by.
He is determined though to do better this time out: "I'll try to do all I can. We're going to have a test before the rally so that we can try and find something for the car. I'll be trying to do some practice myself as well. I'll try to get back into tarmac speed and try to find a little bit more (speed)," he continued.
"I'm sure it's going to be a difficult weekend for me, but you know, I'll just need to go up there and go flat out and then we'll see. I'm definitely not giving up even though it's maybe not the best surface for me, but you never know what's going to happen. So I'm really looking forward to it."
Meanwhile Ford motorsport chief, Gerard Quinn has promised that the team will be doing everything it can to help Hirvonen in his battle with Loeb.
"This was one of the most exciting rallies the championship has witnessed for some time," Quinn added. "Five drivers were in the mix for victory initially, and any one of three could have won today.
"That excitement is transferred to the drivers' championship and it looks as if the outcome could go down the wire at the final round in Britain next month.
"Before that we journey to Spain and we have an expanded test scheduled there before the rally to be fully prepared for the challenges of the asphalt."
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