Wales - leg 3: Hirvonen's rally, Loeb's year.

With Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb both focused on the title, Mikko Hirvonen capitalised perfectly on the Wales Rally GB this weekend to secure his third win of the season and the fourth of his career.

Hirvonen laid the foundations for his victory right from the off and while the weather was at its worse on day 1, with dense fog a particular hazard, the 27-year-old was in a class of his own, 6.5 seconds up Loeb in the first test, to grab the early lead.

It was a position he would never relinquish and he went on to set another four more fastest stage times on the first day to end proceedings nearly 40 seconds up on his illustrious team-mate.

On Saturday Mikko pretty much maintained that advantage and while it did fluctuate a bit, with Gronholm cutting the gap to 30.3 seconds post-SS11, handling problems slowed the double world champion in SS12 and as such the margin went back up to 35 seconds.

During the final leg, Hirvonen kept the gap at around 30-seconds and despite a scare in the last stage, when he went off the road, he still came out top, albeit by just 15.2 seconds.

“Apart from an off on the very last stage on Sunday which cost me perhaps 15 seconds, everything worked very well for me here in Wales,” said Hirvonen. “This season has been fantastic.

“This is the best possible way for me to go into 2008, perhaps as the Ford team leader.”

Marcus Gronholm meanwhile was second in the sister car, on his 150th outing in the sport and his final event before retiring.

The eight points for the runners-up spot though were not enough to move him back in front of Sebastien Loeb in the drivers' championship and with the Frenchman coming home third he lost out by 4 points.

“I am disappointed, of course,” he reflected. “I lost the title in Ireland. Will I come back? No, I've had enough.”

Loeb, like Gronholm, was concentrating on the title this weekend and the Citroen man adopted a 'risk-free' strategy, aware that he only had to finish in the top-five to be sure of taking his fourth drivers' crown - a feat only managed to date by two other people in the 30-year history of the WRC, namely Tommi Makinen and Juha Kankkunen.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) / Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN), BP Ford Focus RS WRC 06.
Marcus Gronholm (FIN) / Timo Rautiainen (FIN), BP Ford Focus RS WRC 06.
Sebastien Loeb (FRA) / Daniel Elena (MC), Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC.
Alexey Lukyanuk - Ford Fiesta R5
Alexey Lukyanuk - Ford Fiesta R5
Pierre Louis Loubet (FRA) - Vincent Landais (FRA) Citroen DS3 R5
Pierre Louis Loubet (FRA) - Vincent Landais (FRA) Citroen DS3 R5
Karl Kruuda (EST) - Martin Jarveoja (EST) Ford Fiesta R5, Drive Dmack Trophy Team
Scott Pedder (AUS) Dale Moscatt (AUS), Skoda Fabia R5
Scott Pedder (AUS) Dale Moscatt (AUS), Skoda Fabia R5
Scott Pedder (AUS) Dale Moscatt (AUS), Skoda Fabia R5
Essapeka Lappi (FIN) Janne Ferm (FIN), Skoda Fabia R5 WRC2, Skoda Motorsport
Quentin Gilbert  (FRA) - Renaud Jamoul (BEL) Citroen DS3 R5
Lorenzo Bertelli (ITA)-Simone Scattolin (ITA) Ford Fiesta RS WRC, FWRT
Lorenzo Bertelli (ITA)-Simone Scattolin (ITA) Ford Fiesta RS WRC, FWRT
Teemu Suninen (FIN) - Mikko Markkula (FIN) Skoda Fabia R5, Team Oreca
Nicolás Fuchs (PER) - Fernando Mussano (ARG) Skoda Fabia R5

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