Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team man Mikko Hirvonen repeated his Rally Sweden win from twelve months ago today as the new era of WRC cars debuted on the ice and snow in Scandinavia.
Hirvonen trailed Mads Ostberg by 14.8 seconds at the close of the opening day on Friday, before grabbing the lead in SS11 on Saturday, a position he would never then relinquish.
Going into the final day it looked like there would be a five-way scrap for P1 with the top five covered by just 15.8 seconds. However Hirvonen almost doubled his lead this morning, with three stage wins on the trot, and while he did lose some ground on the second runs through Torntorp and Rammen - with Ostberg closing the gap to 4.9 seconds - he was 1.6 seconds quicker than the Norwegian in the event closing 'Power Stage'. Consequently he took the victory, just what he needed after a rather lacklustre 2010, when his Sweden win was the only real highlight.
Hirvonen will now be out to prove a point in Mexico next month, but for now he just wants to enjoy what is his 13th WRC win: “I was really nervous before the last stage but what a fantastic start from the team with the new car,” Hirvonen told the official WRC website. “The car has been quick straight away and after a tough season last year I am really pleased with this. But I am not taking this feeling any further. We've won here and now we need to move on to the next round in Mexico where it will be a different game. But I'm very happy with this.”
Mads Ostberg meanwhile was equally chuffed and the 23-year-old definitely impressed on his first outing with the M-Sport Stobart team. Indeed he led for almost half of the event and the runners-up spot – his best result to date in the WRC – was richly deserved.
“We have had a fantastic weekend,” Ostberg added. “I cannot believe that I am second on Rally Sweden. We had the best road position on Friday, yesterday was difficult, but today we felt we could push Mikko hard. I am very happy.”
Jari-Matti Latvala took the final spot on the podium and having slipped to fifth initially this morning, he charged back to claim bronze. “During the whole rally I have made some stupid mistakes so now it feels very good with the podium,” he admitted. “We learned a lot of things. Now I need to calm down and find the correct driving style for this car.”
Behind Sebastien Ogier was fourth, and the Frenchman also took the very first 'Power Stage' win, to claim those three 'bonus' points: “We had some problems with the back of the car; we were sliding all over the stage. Some parts were very difficult. But I am happy to be here. Overall it is good that we took points in Sweden,” he stated.
Petter Solberg, who had been third or fourth pretty much throughout, slipped to fifth in the last stage. Solberg had been caught speeding earlier in the weekend and was given 48 hours before he had to relinquish his driving licence. That meant, somewhat bizarrely, his co-driver Chris Patterson had to drive through SS22, hence they were more than 50 seconds off the pace. "It was my mistake, I need to follow the traffic regulations in every country where I drive," Solberg commented.