Mikko Hirvonen insisted that fourth place on Rally Portugal was the best result he could have hoped for after problems earlier in the event dropped him out of contention for victory.

The Ford driver went into the event leading the championship but after a strong opening day, his hopes of challenging for a second win of the campaign were ended on day two when a puncture and broken rear suspension saw him drop down to fifth.

Although he battled back up to fourth place on the final morning, Hirvonen's hopes of scoring bonus points on the final Power Stage were halted by a broken left rear shock absorber towards the end of the stage, although the points scored for fourth were still enough to allow Hirvonen to retain his place at the head of the standings.

The Finn is however now level on points with defending champion Sebastien Loeb with three events done.

"This was the best result I could hope for after losing time yesterday and this morning," he said after Sunday's finish. "I wanted to take extra points in the Power Stage but it wasn't to be. I'm leaving Portugal still in the lead of the championship. It's close and exciting, and I'm sure it will remain that way for the rest of the season.

"I'm pleased with the performance of the Fiesta. It's only the third rally for the car and this is the roughest it has tackled. The speed is good and we need to continue working hard in our tests to improve the reliability."

With team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala battling back from his own problems to finish third, Ford retains a ten point lead over Citroen in the manufacturers' championship.

"It was a tough and demanding rally," team boss Malcolm Wilson said. "The pace and performance of the car and drivers was excellent but we suffered technical issues which cost the chance to challenge for a win. However, we know we can address these before the next round. It was encouraging to see the positive attitude and feedback from our drivers in what was the first traditional gravel rally for the Fiesta RS WRC."



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