Mikko Hirvonen's hopes of challenging for victory on Rally Sweden disappeared in the 'first' proper stage on Friday.
The Finn was expected to be one of the front runners this weekend, however, it all went wrong within a few kilometres of the start of Lesjofors 1, SS2, when he went off the road in his Citroen DS3 WRC car and got stuck in a snowbank. Although he could continue, he lost over 20 minutes and concluded the opening leg way down the order.
“It happened barely a kilometre after the start, in a section which wasn't particularly difficult,” Hirvonen recounted. “The rear end lifted up and the car started to slide towards the verge, where what should have been a snow bank had been flattened by another car. We span before getting stuck in a snow bank. There weren't any spectators at that point and so it took us a lot of time before we were able to get the car back onto the road.”
“I'm now going to drive without taking any risks to try and pick up a few points for the Manufacturers' championship. I'll also try to score some [drivers] points in the Power Stage,” he added.
Team-mates Dani Sordo and Khalid Al-Qassimi meanwhile also had problems, with the latter going off in both SS2 and SS5, while the former got it wrong in SS6.
“It was pretty much the same as everyone else, we lost the back end and we ended up stuck in a snow bank,” stated Sordo, who is eleventh post-SS8. “Fortunately for us, there were a lot of spectators and we were able to get on our way again pretty easily. It really hasn't been a straightforward day. I never found the right feeling with the car.”
“The day got off to a bad start, as we got stuck in a snow bank on SS2, when we hit the spot where Matthew Wilson went off. And then I did it again – just me this time – on SS5,” Al-Qassimi added. “The conditions are really complicated this year. I'm struggling to find the right feeling and I still lack experience with the car.”
Citroen boss, Yves Matton was not at all pleased, although he was at least comforted by the performance of #1 Sebastien Loeb, who ended the day in second place.
“Obviously, things haven't really worked out like we had hoped,” Matton summed-up. “Mikko fell out of contention very quickly, but that's part and parcel of racing, taking risks when you're going for the win. However, I take heart from Seb's performance. There were just a few seconds between him and [Jari-Matti] Latvala, who is undoubtedly one of the best on this surface. We still don't know how much of a handicap our starting position was.
“It will be easier to compare tomorrow, as Seb will be running just before [rally leader] Sebastien Ogier.”