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.
"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."