Mikko Hirvonen has vowed to move on from one of the biggest 'disappointments' in his career after seeing an almost certain victory in New Zealand disappear with only a few kilometres of the rally remaining.
Making the most of his decent road position as they began leg three, Hirvonen had already overhauled Jari-Matti Latvala for the lead heading into the second run through Whaanga Coast, but when his team-mate crashed out early on in the stage, it left Hirvonen to tackle much of the stage first.
During this time, Hirvonen picked up a slow puncture, forcing him to haemorrhage time over the final two splits. Also causing some damage to his Focus when he spun trying to maintain a decent pace, the time lost was enough for Hirvonen to slip to third.
A bitter end to what has been an otherwise strong rally for the young Finn, Hirvonen admits he could not believe his luck when he began slowing on the stage, but is determined to concentrate on the old adage of 'what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger'…
"When I saw Jari-Matti stopped in the stage I knew I just had to finish,” he said. “However about 9km from the end I realised I had a slow puncture on the rear right tyre. I've no idea how, or where, it happened. Then a kilometre before the finish I spun and the impact on the bank dragged off the front bumper. It just wasn't meant to be."
“This is one of the biggest disappointments of my career but that's the way sport goes. I was confident I could drive at normal pace through that stage and win but it wasn't to be because we handed Loeb victory. It's not looking so good for either championship now but it's not impossible.
Now eight points behind Loeb with four rallies remaining – two of those on Tarmac -, Hirvonen was remaining positive about his performance, as he now believes he has the upper hand over Loeb on gravel.
“An eight-point gap in the drivers' standings will be difficult to make up and it's annoying to end like this after a great weekend. But I finished on the podium and what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. The positive from this event is that I know I can win gravel rallies.”