Mikko Hirvonen has claimed his first victory in the FIA WRC powered by Nokia driving for Citroen following a faultless performance on Vodafone Rally de Portugal, which ended in the Algarve region of the country this afternoon.
Sun 01.04.12, 12:12AM
The Finn’s victory alongside co-driver and countryman Jarmo Lehtinen means he now heads Citroen team-mate Sebastien Loeb by nine points in the race for the WRC drivers’ title. It was Hirvonen’s 15th world championship rally victory, while Loeb failed to score after crashing out on Thursday night.
Hirvonen took the lead on Friday’s second stage and has maintained a healthy advantage throughout, eventually taking the laurels by 1m51.8s over Mads Ostberg as heavy rains returned during the final afternoon.
“I’m relieved more than anything because this has been a very difficult rally,” said Hirvonen, whose victory came despite the fact he failed to land a fastest stage time during the event. “The conditions were very tough so it’s great to come through with no problems and win for Citroen.”
Ostberg and third-placed Evgeny Novikov both overcame late dramas to secure the next steps on the podium. Ostberg’s engine dropped onto three cylinders on Sunday morning, while Novikov’s Fiesta suffered a throttle problem on stage 20.
Fortunately, both cars were repaired to enable their respective drivers to finish, with Novikov securing his maiden podium and co-driver Denis Giraudet landing his first top-three since he navigated Thomas Radstrom to third place on the Safari Rally in 2002. Giraudet, 56, becomes the oldest co-driver to finish on the podium in the WRC.
“I was waiting for this moment for a long time so I am very happy with this result,” said the 21-year-old Novikov.
Petter Solberg brought his total of stage wins to eight with two further fastest times in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. However, his failure to complete Friday’s second stage meant he languished in fourth overall. His bid to win the Power Stage was hampered when it rained heavily prior to his run.
Nasser Al-Attiyah was in a career-best fifth only for a puncture to drop him to fifth on the penultimate stage. But a charging run by the Qatari World Rally Team ace coupled with a hesitant start by Martin Prokop meant Al-Attiyah was able to regain the position by a handful of seconds.
Dennis Kuipers marked his return to the WRC for the first time since Wales Rally GB last November by finishing seventh with Sebastien Ogier eighth in a Volkswagen Motorsport-run Skoda Fabia Super 2000.
Citroen Junior World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville took ninth and his first WRC points despite a double puncture on the penultimate test forcing him to complete the Power Stage with a deflated tyre after he ran out of spares.
Jari Ketomaa overcame a succession of mechanical glitches to take 10th after Peter van Merksteijn Jr was delayed by a broken front-right driveshaft on the penultimate stage. The Dutch driver had to settle for 11th overall.
Dani Sordo won the event-closing Power Stage in Prodrive’s latest-specification MINI John Cooper Works WRC. But delays on Thursday night and a puncture on Sunday’s penultimate run, caused when he spun into a bank, restricted him to 12th.
Daniel Oliveira impressed on his debut in a Stohl Racing Ford Fiesta RS WRC in 13th, which earned the Brazil World Rally Team eight manufacturers’ championship points.
With the fuel pressure problems that held him back on Saturday afternoon cured, Jari-Matti Latvala took three stage wins on his way to a lacklustre 14th overall. Nevertheless the Finn picked up valuable points for the factory Ford team.
Ott Tanak finished 15th after an impact on stage 18 left his M-Sport Fiesta with a broken toe-link bracket and a damaged brake disc.
Home hero Armindo Araujo overcame a puncture on the penultimate stage to finish 16th in his WRC Team MINI Portugal John Cooper Works.