Having produced an assured display over the course of the opening two legs, Mikko Hirvonen made it through the final four stages unscathed to take his second World Rally Championship victory on Rally Norway.

The BP Ford driver took the lead of the event on the very first stage on Friday and although he won only three more stages over the following two days, he returned to the finish back in Hamur with an advantage of 9.5 seconds over team leader Marcus Gronholm.

With four difficult stages on the final leg - including a return run over the longest stage of the entire event, the 44.28km Elverum test - Hirvonen couldn't afford to get complacent, despite team boss Malcolm Wilson stating at the end of leg two that his drivers were to hold station and not fight for position.

Hirvonen was third fastest through the opening stage of the morning, admitting that he needed to concentrate to avoid making an unnecessary mistake, and did just that on the remaining three stages to become the first person to win Rally Norway as a round of the WRC.

Although he admitted it would have been nicer to win, Gronholm brought his car home in second place to secure eight points that put him top of the drivers' standings by four points from his team-mate.

With the fight for victory having effectively been resolved prior to the start of the leg with team boss Malcolm Wilson telling his drivers to hold station, one of the key battles to be decided on the final day was that for third place between Petter and Henning Solberg.

Subaru driver Petter held the advantage into the final day, but he saw his lead vanish on the first stage of the morning, with Henning's Stobart Ford Focus overturning a ten second deficit to take the final place on the podium. With Solberg Jr struggling with his tyres during the leg, Henning ensured that Ford claimed a lock-out of the podium by a margin of 16.5 seconds.

Had it not been for time penalties incurred on the opening leg, the Solberg's team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala would have been rewarded with a podium finish for a fine drive in the second Stobart entry. Only on the first run through the short Hamar stage on Saturday was the young Finn outside the top ten on stage times as he took fifth place - giving the second year team its best points haul yet from a single event.

Behind a lonely Latvala, Gigi Galli inherited sixth place on the final stage when problems for Manfred Stohl saw the Austrian drop down the order. Problems on the same test for Xavier Pons, who had started the final stage in eighth place, enabled both Daniel Carlsson and Jan Kopecky to move up two places to complete the points scorers. Rune Dalsjo and Andreas Mikkelen then rounded out the top ten.

The loss of time for Stohl saw him eventually finish twelfth, which meant world champion Sebastien Loeb was only able to collect a single manufacturers' point for Citroen by virtue of his 14th place. Loeb had been the only man seemingly capable of fighting the Ford pair for victory, but mistakes on two stages on Saturday cost him any chance of victory. Although he made up four places on the final leg, the mistakes needed from others didn't come - leaving Citroen and Loeb now playing catch-up in the standings.

After his last stage issues, Pons had to settle for 16th, a place ahead of team-mate Juho Hanninen who was unable to make up for the disappointment of his exclusion from the PCWRC standings in Sweden a week ago with a top finish on the second snow event of the season. Toni Gardemeister failed to start the final leg due to an engine problem on his Lancer that forced him out overnight. The Finn had been lying outside the top 20 anyway, having gone off the road in leg two.

Chris Atkinson, after an off on Saturday, had to settle for 19th place while Dani Sordo and Matthew Wilson - both of whom retired from leg two and restarted under SupeRally - took 25th and 26th, both over half an hour behind the winner.

In the Junior Rally Championship, Per-Gunnar Andersson was a dominant winner by more than seven minutes as the Juniors kicked off their campaign. Problems for Urmo Aava on the opening leg helped Andersson's cause as he came home ahead of defending champion Patrick Sandell, while a recovering Aava took the final place on the podium.


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