Mikko Hirvonen admitted that there was little he could say after being beaten by Citroen
team-mate Sebastien Loeb
on home soil in Rally Finland, having produced a performance of his own to be proud of.
The Finn gave himself a fright when he clipped an old tree stump in a narrow section right at the start of SS13 and, believing – wrongly as it turned out – that he had picked up a puncture, lost a few precious seconds. However, Hirvonen remained in the fight and, when Loeb subsequently took care as he imagined a problem of his own, hundreds of thousands of fans watching the rally were treated to the battle continuing over the jumps of Ouninpohja.
In front of the TV cameras broadcasting the stage live, Loeb and Hirvonen fought tooth-and-nail, taking it in turns to steal a few tenths at each split. At the stop control for SS17, the local hero had made up 2.2secs on his team-mate, but still admitted that it was unlikely that the Frenchman would let the round slip.
The second run also served as the Power Stage, with bonus points being awarded for the best three times. As they had over the rest of the rally, the Citroën drivers were strong again, with Hirvonen pushing hard every inch of the way to set the best time at 15mins 17.3secs. With an average speed of 129.54kph, he also beat Petter Solberg's record, that had stood since 2004. As he predicted, however, it wasn't enough to deny Loeb, or prevent the multiple world champion from extending his points lead.
“I came to win, so I'm obviously a little bit disappointed to finish second,” Hirvonen admitted, “I tried everything. I drove flat out for three days, but Sébastien was just faster. I'd like to thank Citroën for letting us race each other freely and I'm proud to be involved in securing this fifth one-two finish for the team.
"I'm sure everybody will tell me that [I let Loeb win], but I have no excuses. Sébastien was six seconds faster and that's it. I had no mistakes, there's nothing I can say. I was hoping to [catch him on Ouninpohja]. The first five kilometres I have used as a test road, but it was so slippery. I was going into the ditches - well, of course, not into
the ditches, but close. I had to take caution all of the time and couldn't attack like I wanted to. From then on, I didn't really think I could take him by driving."
Despite having been keen to avoid an early exit on his home event, Hirvonen reflected that it may have been his cautious approach to the opening day that cost him a shot at victory.
"It's easy to say now that maybe that was a mistake, but the last two years my rally has been over and I didn't want to do that [again]," he conceded, "I lost by six seconds and I need to learn for next year. You have to push hard here. Like Sebastien, I was really happy with the car [but] there were a couple of moments on Thursday and one this morning. In Ouninpohja, even though we broke the [stage] record, that stage has never felt so easy. We were pushing, but I felt in the comfort zone all the time. You can push harder, but then there is more risk, and when you do that it can end badly. We didn't want to go that far."
Co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen admitted that the caution had allowed Loeb to build too big a cushion, but confirmed that both Hirvonen and the car had been faultless.