Acropolis - day 2: Hirvonen set to win?
13 June 2009
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team leader Mikko Hirvonen looks on course to take his maiden win of the season tonight following day two of the Acropolis Rally of Greece.
Hirvonen was gifted the lead of the seventh round in the 2009 World Rally Championship in the final stage on Friday, when his team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala ran into difficulties.
However the Finn was anticipating a tough fight today with the Citroen's of Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo, something that would be compounded by his position on the road.
Despite having to play 'road sweeper' though, Mikko returned to the final service with a 1 minute 40.1 second cushion, after Loeb, Sordo and then Petter Solberg all went out.
Loeb was the first to exit when he crashed and heavily damaged his Citroen C4 WRC car in the opening test. Seb and co-driver, Daniel Elena both escaped unhurt in the incident in SS7, but they will not be able to re-start on Sunday under the SupeRally format.
Sordo meanwhile joined his Citroen team-mate on the sidelines in SS9, when he hit a rock and damaged the suspension. The same rock claimed Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg too.
Suspension problems would also account for Henning's brother, Petter in the afternoon, something that now leaves Mikko odds on to take the maximum ten points and cut Loeb's advantage in the drivers' championship from 17 points to 7.
“It is a perfect day for me,” said Hirvonen. “We made no mistakes, faced no problems and we have a big difference, but you never know.”
With so many front runners hitting problems, Sebastien Ogier is now 'best of the rest' and set to take silver. The Citroen Junior Team driver paced himself throughout, posting five top-six times from six - his best effort coming in the penultimate stage when he was fourth.
Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile completes the provisional podium, a remarkable comeback after his late dramas on Friday, which dropped him from first to eleventh.
Unsurprisingly he was over-the-moon to be so well placed and with Ogier not registered to score manufacturers' points, the 'Blue Oval' is poised to really exploit Citroen's misfortune.
“It was an amazing day,” said Jari-Matti. “Yesterday it was a disaster and I could not imagine that today I could climb up to the third position. We kept a steady pace and are trying to maintain a good speed.”
Further down the order Evgeny Novikov lies fourth, a minute further back from Latvala and just over 10 seconds up on Conrad Rautenbach and Federico Villagra, who are squabbling over P5.
Novikov had a strong day and after posting his first stage win at the top level on day one, added another three to his name on Saturday.
“It was quite rough, but we are here and the result is good,” said the Russian. “On the second loop we tried to push hard and avoid the punctures at the same time. It is a pleasure to drive like this.”
Of the rest, BP Ford Abu Dhabi 'third' driver, Khalid Al-Qassimi comes in seventh, while Petter Solberg limped back to service after his problems in SS11 and was provisionally classified in eighth. The Norwegian later confirmed that he will not re-start on day three.
"I was attacking and we hit a rock and destroyed the left front top mount. The bumper popped out of the bonnet. We tried to fix it, but it broke again," said 'Hollywood'. "It is a pity. We were very unlucky."
Fellow retirees, Dani Sordo and Henning Solberg were also left bitterly disappointed after similar incidents in the morning - although both of them should be able to SupeRally.
“We'd been running very comfortably from the start, but we hit a stone that wasn't in our pace notes – it was hidden in the grass,” said Dani. “It broke a ball joint: we could have repaired it but we'd have lost too much time.
“We should be able to restart under the SupeRally. I'm very unhappy because I felt I could have won here.”
Loeb was also left to rue his bad luck.
"I took a right-hander a bit too fast. We got through the corner, but we weren't on the correct line for the next left-hander," he explained. "We hit a stone at the apex which ripped off a wheel and sent us into a series of barrel rolls on the other side of the road. We rolled five or six times at high speed. There is no chance to fix it for tomorrow - the car's too badly damaged to restart.
“The main thing though is that neither of us was injured. It's a shame to lose so many points in the championship and of course, this is a great loss for us, but we still are on top of the championship. Mikko [Hirvonen] lost points in Argentina. It was just my turn to make a mistake.”
In the Production Car World Rally Championship, local man Lambros Athanassoulas led all day until the final test, when he dropped to second. Nasser Al-Attiyah now heads the class, 8.8 seconds ahead, with Armindo Araujo third, followed by Toshi Arai and Martin Prokop.
The action now concludes on Sunday, with five tests and 95 competitive kilometres on the bill - including the longest stage of the event, the 33.00 kilometre Aghii Theodori test, ran twice as SS14 and SS17.
More to follow then...