30 March 2012
Hirvonen leads in Portugal after 'unbelievable' loop
Mikko Hirvonen survives the rain, mud and fog in Portugal and returns to service with a 36.3 second lead over Evgeny Novikov; Mads Ostberg is third.
Citroen's Mikko Hirvonen heads the pack on Rally de Portugal following a dramatic first loop of the day.
After the night stages on Thursday, today's action got underway just after mid-day and heavy rain, fog and mud made the going extremely difficult. Despite the treacherous conditions though, Hirvonen kept his cool and emerged after SS7 with a 36.3 second advantage: “You cannot believe how slow we are driving,” Hirvonen said after the final test of the loop. “It is unbelievable. It is very, very muddy and so slippery.”
Overnight leader Latvala was one of the first major casualties of the day, when he went off near the end of SS5 and got stuck in a ditch. That left Petter out front in the sister works Fiesta RS WRC, but he also hit trouble in the very next test, joining his team-mate on the sidelines - a bitter blow for Ford, especially as the 'Blue Oval' had looked perfectly placed to make up some ground following Sebastien Loeb's retirement in SS3 on Thursday.
Latvala and Solberg weren't the only ones sidelined however, as Ott Tanak, fourth overnight, and Thierry Neuville, who had been fifth, also went out in Tavira 1.
All the carnage, left Evgeny Novikov in second, and even though he had intercom issues, he was second quickest in SS7, to move up to second overall ahead of Mads Ostberg. Ostberg was slowed in the final test of the loop by a puncture.
Patrik Sandell is next up and fourth, albeit more than 2 minutes off P3. Still it was a good morning for the Prodrive WRC Team man, especially as he had been down in eleventh last night in his MINI.
Further back, Martin Prokop now lies fifth ahead of Nasser Al-Attiyah, Peter van Merksteijn Jr and Dennis Kuipers. Sebastien Ogier and Jari Ketomaa round out the top ten, the latter slipping down from fifth after SS5 due to engine problems.
Dani Sordo meanwhile rejoined today under the Rally 2 regulations and running first in the order he made the best of his road position to take a hat-trick of stage wins. The time lost on Thursday though has put him out of contention.
Rally de Portugal now continues later on this afternoon, with a repeat-run through the same three stages.
SS8, the 25.01 km Tavira 2 test, is due to start at 15.56 hours local time.
Rally de Portugal: Overall standings after Stage 7 (Top 10):
1. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 1hour 20mins 01.7secs M
2. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 36.3secs M
3. Mads Ostberg Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 41.8secs M
4. Patrik Sandell Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC +03mins 07.2secs
5. Martin Prokop Czech Ford National Team Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 25.8secs
6. Nasser Al-Attiyah Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +03mins 46.9secs M
7. Peter van Merksteijn Jr van Merksteijn Motorsport Citroen DS3 WRC +03mins 50.8secs
8. Dennis Kuipers M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 41.1secs
9. Sebastien Ogier VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +05mins 45.1secs
10. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 52.3secs
11. Armindo Araujo WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +00mins 58.9secs
DNS. Paulo Nobre WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC Did not start – crashed in Qualifying stage
DNS. Kevin Abbring VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 Did not start – crashed in shakedown
SS2. Dani Sordo Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC Did not start SS2*
SS3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC Went off the road M
SS5. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC Went off the road M
SS5. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC Went off the road M
SS5. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC Stopped in test M
SS5. Hayden Paddon Skoda Fabia S2000 Stopped in stage S
SS6. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC Went off the road M
* denotes re-started under Rally 2
all times unofficial
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