BP Ford Abu Dhabi number one driver Mikko Hirvonen secured the victory on Rally Sweden today to begin the 2010 World Rally Championship season in the best way possible.

Hirvonen took P1 on the second loop on Friday, after arch rival Sebastien Loeb slipped back due to deteriorating roads conditions. After that the Finn never lost the lead and while Loeb did close up on Saturday morning, reducing the overnight deficit to 4.2 seconds, Hirvonen soon hit back.

Indeed by the end of the second leg he was 16.6 seconds in front and two further quickest times on Sunday - in SS18 and SS19 - saw him stretch his advantage to 32.1 seconds. That effectively ended Loeb's challenge and Hirvonen eventually came through and won by 42.3 seconds.

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"I was so nervous before the start of the last stage," said Hirvonen. "I have never won the first rally of the season before. I'm happy to beat Seb here. It was a great fight."

Loeb meanwhile admitted that he just didn't have the speed to beat Hirvonen. Indeed the Frenchman opted to ease off after SS18 and ensure he took silver: "Mikko did a perfect rally," Loeb added. "I made some mistakes but I don't know if I could have beaten him anyway."

Jari-Matti Latvala was next up in third to give Ford a 1-3. Latvala struggled a bit early on, but he moved ahead of Citroen number two Dani Sordo in the penultimate stage on Saturday. In the end the two were separated by almost 1.5 minutes.

"This is a good start to the season and I had a good battle with Dani over the rally. This time I won that battle," said Latvala. "I'm looking forward to the rest of the year now."

Further down the order Sebastien Ogier took a very solid fifth for the Citroen Junior Team. The Frenchman ran in P5 pretty much throughout and while he was 1 minute 33.7 seconds off Sordo, he was a similar amount up on Henning Solberg in sixth.

"What a great result for the team and me," Ogier reflected. "I'm surprised how well I have done, especially as I have never been here before."

Matthew Wilson and Mads Ostberg rounded out the top eight, with Petter Solberg a disappointing ninth after having lost bags of time in SS5 when he went off and then collided with Wilson's car after the Briton stalled under braking.

"This was not my rally for sure. We must have tried everything we knew to make things work," 'Hollywood' noted. "We must try to get things better for Mexico."

PG Andersson took the final point in tenth in his Skoda Fabia S2000 and the Swede also took the laurels in the new SWRC category. Andersson dominated his class, leading throughout and eventually finishing 47.3 seconds up on Janne Tuohino. Martin Prokop was third, albeit 2 minutes further back.

In the PWRC, Patrik Flodin was similarly in a class of his own and headed home Anders Grondal by 1 minute 13.1 seconds. Armindo Araujo was third.

Of the rest, two-time world rally champion, Marcus Gronholm and 2007 F1 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen both had events to forget and finished 21st and 30th respectively.

Gronholm, who was taking in his first WRC event since Portugal last year, lost time with an electrical problem in SS6 and then had more drama on day two with a puncture in SS13 and an off in SS15: "Okay, we have finished," says Gronholm. "After the first day things have gone better and better. I'm happy to be back. We'll see now about more rallies for this year."

Raikkonen, who was competing in only his second WRC event and also only his second with the Citroen C4 WRC, lost more than 26 minutes on Friday when he slid off into a snow bank. He also had a minor off on Saturday and a problem in SS18 on Sunday.

"I've learned a lot during this rally. It was not easy," said Raikkonen.

The World Rally Championship now continues next month with the Rally Mexico, which runs from March 5-7.