Mikko Hirvonen finally took his maiden WRC win with Citroen on Rally Italia Sardegna this weekend.
Hirvonen put in a strong performance throughout the four days, although in the end it was a relatively easy victory for the former Ford man, as three of his key all rivals went out on the Friday, leaving him well placed to triumph.
Hirvonen pretty much matched team-mate, Sebastien Loeb, through the two opening tests on Thursday afternoon, and was just 1.1 seconds behind post-SS2. However the Frenchman took himself out of the equation in the first stage on Friday when he broke the steering on his DS3 WRC and retired. Ford works pair Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg also succumbed on the second day, with Latvala hitting a bank and damaging the radiator on his Fiesta in SS4, while 'Hollywood' went out in SS7 after hitting a rock. That left Hirvonen with a commanding lead of over a minute going into Saturday's third leg, when his biggest challenge was just keeping the concentration up and not making any mistakes.
He duly did it though, and with just the short 8.24 km Gallura test to negotiate on the Sunday, albeit ran twice, he eventually took the spoils by 1 minute 20.6 seconds.
It was a welcome result for Hirvonen and all the sweeter considering he only lost the win in Portugal back in February, when the stewards found irregularities with his Citroen DS3 WRC in post-event scrutineering.
The victory also ensures he will end the season second in the drivers' championship, the fourth time he has been vice-champion.
“It feels really, really good to win, I'm really happy,” Hirvonen remarked at the finish. “We've been second five times here and finally I got the win. I felt really good with the car, we pushed on Thursday and Friday and then we managed our advantage yesterday and this morning. It's a fantastic victory for the whole team and I look forward to doing the same in Spain now – I'll be flat out there.”
Behind, Evgeny Novikov took the runners-up spot for the M-Sport Ford WRT, equally what he managed in Portugal, although then of course he gained a place after Hirvonen's disqualification. The Russian posted top-six times in virtually all the stages - including going quickest in SS6, SS7 and SS10 – and was just over a minute up on his team-mate, Ott Tanak at the end.
“It was a long rally, with very tricky stages. We pushed where we could and then we managed and kept our position. It's fantastic [to get second place], I'm very happy,” he said.
Tanak meanwhile was equally pleased with third, especially as he lost quite a significant chunk of time on the Thursday after opting for the wrong tyres: “I'm really happy to take my first WRC podium,” he noted. “It was a perfect weekend. I'm so pleased for the team as well. They've done an incredible job during the whole season.”