Finland - day 2: Hirvonen set to win?
1 August 2009
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team leader Mikko Hirvonen remains in the lead on the Neste Oil Rally Finland following day two on Saturday and the Finn has now increased his lead to more than 30 seconds.
Hirvonen, who began the second leg just 3.3 seconds up on his closest rival Sebastien Loeb, pushed from the off and won all three stages on the first loop to increase his cushion to 10.9 seconds.
On the middle repeat loop the Finn was again in a class of his own, setting the pace in SS14 and SS15 to stretch the gap even more.
Himos 2 though was to be decisive as the 29-year-old not only took his fifth stage win in succession, but with Loeb hitting a pot hole and picking up a front right puncture, he was 13.5 seconds quicker than the Frenchman.
With his lead doubled, Hirvonen eased his pace slightly in SS16 and thus headed back to service 28 seconds ahead.
In the end following the final loop - and another stage win, his tenth in total on this year's '1000 Lakes' - Mikko finished proceedings well on course to take his very first victory on his home event.
“It has been a really good day, and everything went completely to plan,” Hirvonen stated. “Tomorrow we will continue like I have today. It is a shame Sebastien had a problem because it was a fantastic fight. But there is not so much pressure on us now."
Loeb meanwhile has conceded defeat and is now focusing on making sure he gets to the end and secures second.
However while the puncture in SS15 was no doubt crucial, interestingly the Citroen man was slower than Mikko in all but one of the day's stages, namely the final one, the 29.29 kilometre Vaarinmaja test.
"There is nothing else to do except to finish now,” Loeb reflected. “Mikko has been driving so well and so fast and I don't think I could have caught him. Now the game is over."
Jari-Matti Latvala is next up and on course for that final place on the podium. The Finn struggled this morning with an upset stomach, but felt better as the day progressed, overhauling Dani Sordo in SS16.
He then pulled further in front on the final loop, and following his third stage win now has 10.5 seconds in hand.
"It has really been a tough day, first being ill in the morning and then pushing to overtake Sordo. More of the same tomorrow, without the sickness I hope!" said Latvala, who has been trying to re-build his confidence after his Rally Poland SSS gaff.
Sordo for his part was able to match Latvala and stay right with him until the last three stages, when he was reminded about Citroen's battle with Ford in the manufacturers'.
"It was an okay day for us, but the team tell me to think of the Championship and preserve the car," Sordo confirmed.
Further down the order, Matti Rantanen is on course to take a very fine fifth place on his 'guest' outing with the Munchi's Ford squad. He had been comfortably in P5, but lost quite a bit of time in the final stage when he had a bit of a scare.
"Not such a great day, but I am lucky to be here as I was almost off the road in SS19,” Rantanen explained.
Sebastien Ogier ended up sixth and is now Rantanen's principal threat, only 17.5 seconds behind. Ogier had been battling with Mads Ostberg for P6, but that fight ended early when the Adapta man crashed his Subaru Impreza WRC in SS19.
Of the rest Jari Ketomaa and Matthew Wilson round out the provisional points' scorers, followed by Conrad Rautenbach and Khalid Al Qassimi. Federico Villagra is eleventh with Juho Hanninen 12th and set for glory in the Group N class.
In the Junior World Rally Championship, Martin Prokop still holds P1, as he has from the off. Prokop won four more stages today and lies 28.7 seconds up on 'wild card' runner Kalle Pinomaki ahead of Sunday's final leg.
Michal Kosciuszko is third in the JWRC, having got passed Aaron Burkart in the penultimate stage of the day.
As for retirements, in addition to Ostberg, Kimi Raikkonen also went out, the Finn crashing in exactly the same place. Earlier on Henning Solberg was sidelined too, suspension damage putting him out in SS12, whilst his brother Petter retired in service E due to engine problems. Petter had re-started under the SupeRally this morning along with Citroen Junior Team's Evgeny Novikov, who incidentally went off the road in SS14.
The action now concludes on Sunday and the final leg is a short one, with just four stages and 47.44 competitive kilometres on the bill.