Mikko Hirvonen has given M-Sport's Ford Fiesta S2000 a debut victory on the opening round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, the 78th Automobile Rallye Monte Carlo, which finished in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The 29-year-old Finn and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen held the lead from the opening stage on Wednesday to claim their first win on the legendary event. Although Sebastien Ogier closed to within 38.3 seconds of them with his seventh stage victory on Friday evening, the Peugeot 207 driver's bid for a second successive win in the Principality was cruelly ended when he retired on the road section heading to the penultimate stage.
"It's always been a dream of mine to win the Monte Carlo Rally,” Hirvonen refelcted. “I have to say the car has been perfect from start to finish thanks to the mechanics who worked so hard to get everything ready.
“It was never easy but thanks to an excellent job from the team we were able to win having led from the start. I've really enjoyed this experience and I'd love to come back again. It was a shame Sebastien Ogier had his technical problem because it was a great battle but it also came as a relief that he stopped. We had a perfect tyre from Pirelli. I am very happy."
Ogier's retirement, the result of a broken alternator pulley shaft, elevated Skoda's Juho Hanninen to second place with Nicolas Vouilloz claiming third on a one-off outing for the Czech firm. The result means Skoda tops the IRC Manufacturers' standings over M-Sport by four points.
Hanninen held second at the start of the day but fell behind Ogier on the first stage of Friday evening when his choice of winter tyre proved too conservative for the conditions, which were drier in parts than expected.
"Of course it's good to get some points but it's disappointing we lost the fight to Ogier. But I am happy with second place following a difficult rally in difficult conditions. I am very pleased to have got to the end,” Hanninen stated. “If anything it was even harder than last year but I think we've improved and the car has improved so we can look forward to what I am sure will be a very strong season for us. I would like to congratulate Mikko for a fantastic job."
"My aim was to finish the Monte Carlo Rally for the first time and this is what I did,” Vouilloz added. “To do this with Skoda is also very good so I am very happy. It was not easy and perhaps I did not always have the speed or the confidence I wanted to be able to push. But I did not make any big mistakes and to be on the podium on this rally is a very big achievement."
Stephane Sarrazin was the lead Peugeot 207 driver home in fourth. Having lost time with a puncture and a crash into a snow bank earlier in the event, Sarrazin had an anxious wait at the first service halt in Monaco on Friday afternoon while his PH Sport mechanics rushed to replace a broken front differential. Their efforts were rewarded when he went fastest on stage 13 - despite the lack of a functioning first gear. He was quickest again on the last stage of the event.