Mikko Hirvonen reckoned that he was lucky to finish the 2013 Rally Finland, but early setbacks with the weather on Thursday followed by an accident at the end of Friday left him relieved just to make it to the finish in fourth place.
Although the Citroen
star had topped qualifying which had given him the luxury of choosing a running position that allowed others to sweep the gravel surfaces for him, Hirvonen's race came undone on Thursday afternoon when he suffered the brunt of afternoon storms that hit during his run through Himos.
"There is so much water on the road, we lost 20 seconds on that run as we were first in the group," he sighed. "I was not in the same group as my rivals and I believe I have been penalised by the heavy rain. I lost even more time in the second loop because of the aquaplanning."
After that, Hirvonen's biggest scare of the weekend came on Friday afternoon during SS12 when he hit a bank and came perilously close to rolling.
"I went off on a 5th gear corner and hit the bank and it started to roll but luckily I just did a 360 spin in fourth gear," whose front left tyre was ripped form the wheel rim by the incident. "At least we have two spares," he shrugged.
The car suffered further issues as a result: "The rear damper or something is broken on the right rear and it's quite difficult to drive. I think I damaged the rear suspension as well," he said. "It's a kind of miracle that we are still in the race."
After that, Hirvonen concentrated on getting the day through the final day's stages, confident that he was clear of any cars behind him that might challenge for fourth place while nonetheless disappointed that he was well out of the thrilling battle ahead for the podium positions.
"Everyone knows these stages well enough, including Ouninpohja. Even without making the slightest mistake, I just couldn't close the gap on them," he admitted. "If I took huge risks, I could probably go a little bit quicker, but I don't think that it's worth taking that sort of risk. I don't think I [could] make into the top three under normal conditions," he continued, adding that he still needed to keep pushing to stay within striking distance, just in case something had happened up in front.
Hirvonen also admitted that he'd made the wrong tyre choice for the final afternoon's run.
“The road wasn't dry enough, so it wasn't the best option,” he said afterwards. “I tried everything, gave my all, but it's almost impossible to make up lost time at this rally. I didn't come here for fourth place, so for sure, this result is disappointing."
That sentiment was echoed by Citroen
Racing team principal Yves Matton, after Hirvonen's team mate Dani Sordo ended up in fifth place and Kris Meeke crashed out in the final run through Ouninpohja.
"Not having any of our cars on the podium is frustrating for the whole team, especially given the level of performance shown by Mikko at the start of the rally," he said after the end of the event.