Acropolis - day 3: Mikko breaks '09 win duck
14 June 2009
BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen claimed the honours in Greece this weekend, coming through to triumph on the 56th Acropolis Rally, the seventh round in the 2009 World Rally Championship.
Hirvonen was gifted the lead late on Friday, when his team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala ran into difficulties. It was a position he would never relinquished and while he anticipated losing ground on day two due to his road position, in the end it was his rivals that floundered, with Sebastien Loeb, Dani Sordo and Petter Solberg all falling by the wayside.
Indeed despite having to play the 'road sweeper' on Saturday, Hirvonen ended the second leg with a 1 minute 40.1 second cushion and he then opted for a measured approach through Sunday's final tests.
The Finn eventually took P1 by 1 minute 12.9 seconds, the first time he has stood on the top step of the rostrum since the Rally Japan at the end of last season. The win couldn't have come at a better time either, especially as championship leader Sebastien Loeb failed to score. As such Mikko is now right back in the fight for the 2009 drivers' title, the gap between him and Seb coming down from 17 points to 7.
“I drove cleverly, no punctures and no mistakes,” said Hirvonen. “It was fantastic. If you get through this difficult rally like this, you are the winner. We are back in the fight. The championship is alive again.”
Sebastien Ogier meanwhile notched up his best ever WRC result with the runners-up spot, despite quite a big a scare this morning in SS14 when he crashed into a cow and damaged the front of his Citroen C4 WRC.
The Frenchman, who won the Junior World Rally Championship last season and who has had a bit of a mixed debut season in a full WRC car, ran strongly throughout posting top-ten times in 14 of the 15 stages, including winning SS5 on Friday.
With his programme still to be confirmed after the next event in Poland, he reckons it should be a real help: "This second place comes at a perfect moment. I have to thank very much the team, at the start it was difficult with punctures, but we didn't have problems with the car. It was a perfect weekend, we drove without mistakes conserving the car. I am very happy. We will see about the rest of the season, it is better for us now, with this result," he confirmed.
Jari-Matti Latvala completed the podium and ensured the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT took the maximum manufacturers' points, as Ogier is not registered for the Citroen Junior Team.
Latvala had been in the lead until an error in the final test on Friday. That dropped him from first to eleventh, but he stormed back on day 2 and was very relieved with P3.
"I thought I had lost everything on Friday evening. A place on the podium was never in my dreams but others made mistakes and their cars broke and that's exactly what I achieved,” he stated.
“My strategy yesterday was to save the tyres, save the car and drive round the rocks and it paid off. This rally required respect and the result is so important for me and the team from the championship perspective."
Further down the order, Federico Villagra and Conrad Rautenbach enjoyed a good squabble for P4 and only 0.9 seconds separated the two going into the final stage. In the end though Villagra held on and he actually took fourth by over 10 seconds.
"It's fantastic to get another fourth place to add to the one from my home rally in Argentina,” said the Munchi's Ford man. “We had to work really hard for this one but it's a special feeling to finish fourth on this classic event.”
Rautenbach in contrast was not pleased to miss out: "I am very disappointed; it was a very long fight, and that was great, but we have to learn to be more focused for the next rally," he added.
Khalid Al Qassimi was sixth in the 'third' BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT entry - a career best result for the 37-year-old Emirati driver, while Mads Ostberg re-started under the SupeRally today after suspension problems yesterday afternoon and claimed two points for seventh.
The final 'senior' WRC drivers' point went to local star, Lambros Athanassoulas, who also incidentally took the victory in the Production Car World Rally Championship. Athanassoulas led the PWRC for much of the event in his Skoda Fabia Super 2000, and although he lost the lead on day two, he fought back on Sunday and eventually beat Nasser Al-Attiyah by 22.3 seconds.
"I think that we have been rewarded for all the efforts to try to secure this car,” said Lambros. “Only me, my brother and the people close to me know exactly how difficult it was. I believed that a reliable car would provide me with the chance to fight for the win. And while I said pre-event that my goal was fifth place, I was convinced that I could win."
Armindo Araujo took tenth overall and third in the PWRC, while Toshi Arai and Martin Prokop rounded out the Production top-five.
Of the rest, Dani Sordo was 12th for Citroen, having had to re-join the fold after going out on day two with suspension problems, while Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg also utilised the SupeRally and came in 14th and 15th.
Sebastien Loeb was unable to re-start today after his big crash in SS7, while Petter Solberg also bowed out following Saturday's second leg and an impact with a rock in SS11.
The World Rally Championship now heads to Poland in two weeks time for a fast gravel event based in Mikolajki. The event runs from June 25-28 and it is the first time the country has held a round of the WRC since 1973.