Mikko Hirvonen survived Rally de Portugat to take his debut win with the Citroen Total World Rally Team, only to have it taken away hours after the finish when scrutineers found illegal parts on his DS3 WRC. The decision hands the victory to Ford privateer Mads Ostberg.
Hirvonen inherited the lead on Friday morning following a dramatic start to the event, which got underway on Thursday and saw his team-mate, Sebastien Loeb, get caught out in SS3, the second night stage and the second 'proper' test of the event.
However the next day brought more drama and with heavy rain, thick fog and mud making the stages treacherous, both works Fords hit trouble. Overnight leader Jari-Matti Latvala was the first to go off and get stuck in a ditch in SS5 and on the next stage, his team-mate, Petter Solberg also made a mistake and had to retire from the leg. That left Hirvonen 36.3 seconds up on Ostberg at the end of day two, as organisers opted to cancel the repeat loop on safety grounds.
On Saturday, with conditions improved, Hirvonen pulled further and further ahead and he went into the final leg with a 1 minute 12.1 second cushion. That advantage meant he could continue to take it easy today and he eventually took the victory by almost 2 minutes - although interestingly he didn't take a single stage win throughout the four days (and neither did Citroen). The result moved Mikko to the top of the drivers' championship and put him 9 points ahead of Loeb. His joy though, was short lived and following post-event scrutineering the Finn was stripped of the position. The official scrutineering report said that Hirvonen's clutch was 'not in conformity with the Homologation Form A5733', and that was not the only irregularity found during the usual post-event checks, although the stewards decided to make further investigations to determine whether then #2 car's turbo also failed the regulations.
Citroen initially announced it would appeal the decision, before abandoning it a few days later: "As further analysis of the matter and discussions with experts did not uncover any new technical elements that might have been used to alter the harsh penalty handed out by the Stewards, Citroen decided not to pursue what would have been a long and costly procedure," Citroen explained.
“Obviously, I am very disappointed but I am not annoyed. These things happen. You have to accept them when they do, learn the necessary lessons and go again. Citroen has done a lot for me in the last few months so I stand united with the team at this difficult time. We win together, and we lose together!” Hirvonen added. “This incident just makes me even more determined. I can't wait to start the next rally and go competing again.”
Ostberg thus wins his first ever WRC event in his Adapta World Rally Team-run Ford Fiesta RS WRC. He was pleased with his performance over the four days, but added he feels for Hirvonen.
“Of course, we are very happy with the win, but it is not the way we wanted to take it and I am very disappointed for Mikko as he did a fantastic job all weekend," he admitted magnanimously, "But we had a really good rally ourselves and we will definitely be celebrating our 'second' place."
Evgeny Novikov meanwhile came through to claim what turned out to be second, also in a semi-privately run Ford Fiesta RS WRC. The M-Sport Ford WRT man had a scare on the final loop when he had a problem with his throttle cable. However he hung on to take his best ever result in the WRC.