9 September 2011
Hirvonen heads Ford 1-2 after dire day for Citroen
Latvala agreed it was extremely tricky: “It was a hugely demanding day,” continued the Crash.net columnist. “Perhaps I didn't respect the conditions as much as I should have done this morning, but I ensured that I did exactly that during the second loop.”
Petter Solberg meanwhile lies third in his privately entered DS3 WRC car and while he is 37.3 seconds off P2, he remains positive.
“I am very happy with the performance today,” stated the Norwegian. “The conditions have been very challenging, I don't think I have ever seen such muddy conditions. We had a couple of spins today, and lost time, but luckily I'm still here! The car has worked perfectly but we still need some more experience to find the correct set-up for these kinds of muddy conditions. Hopefully it will dry up for tomorrow, and that gives us a good road position. We are not far behind, so we still have a fair chance!”
Behind, Petter's brother Henning is fourth for the M-Sport Stobart Ford team, although he is over 1.5 minutes further back: “I am smiling - I have had a good day and I am hungry to finish on the podium now. For sure, we have not been without problems today but I know that everybody has had issues so it was not just me,” he added.
“I have to say that it is dangerous driving on the stages in these road conditions – it's very slippery and the trees are some of the biggest I've seen so the smallest mistake can mean you could be out the rally. My side window started to fall out on Stage 6 so we lost a bit of time there but we tightened it up before the next stage so it was fine. Now I hope that the rain will clear tomorrow - it is just too difficult to push in these types of conditions.”
Britain's Matthew Wilson rounds out the top-five, with Khalid Al-Qassimi in sixth position - the last of the WRC runners to make it through the day: “You know it's been a tough day when Sebastien [Loeb] retires as that very rarely happens,” Wilson Jr remarked. “We're just glad to have made it through relatively unscathed, especially after so many of the other drivers had problems.
“The roads today were both slippery and the grip was constantly changing, the conditions were some of the most difficult I have ever come across in the WRC. Tomorrow's stages won't be as affected as they have been today, they're more gravel-based and more out in the open so we should find a lot more grip than we did today. From the recce, I think tomorrow will be the most enjoyable so I'm glad to have got through a difficult time today and can't wait to start on tomorrow's stages.”
In addition to the two factory Citroens, Monster WRT man Ken Block, M-Sport Stobart Ford's Evgeny Novikov and Citroen privateer Peter van Merksteijn Jr also had to retire.Block went off the road on the opening stage, damaging his rear suspension, while Novikov retired his Fiesta RS WRC car from fourth this afternoon after hitting a rock and breaking a steering arm. van Merksteijn Jr had to call it a day after SS6 after he picked up two punctures and only had one replacement.
“Everything was fine this morning,” Novikov said. “We had no problems with the car but the stages were slippery so we weren't trying to push. This afternoon seemed more level for all the drivers - this morning the conditions were difficult as we were running further behind the others. Then we hit a rock about one and a half km into Stage 7.
“There was so mud that we just couldn't get it back out and I think we had broken the steering arm too. The damage wasn't as bad as it had been at Shakedown so I think we will be fine to restart tomorrow.”
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