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Mikko snatches back title lead in Poland

by CAR magazine on 29/06/2009

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Mikko Hirvonen claimed the World Rally Championship lead, one point over defending champion Sebastien Loeb, at the Rally of Poland this weekend.It’s almost inconceivable considering Loeb’s commanding lead after Rally Argentina when Citroen was holding a one-two in the standings. Bad luck and incidents have played a part in Loeb’s fall from the top of the points since the fifth round.

Latvala won at Sardinia, with Hirvonen second, and now Hirvonen has taken the last two victories. At Acropolis Rally, he moved into second in the standings with 48 to Loeb’s 55, and after Loeb crashed when he hit a tree stump on leg one this weekend, the opportunity presented itself.

“This has been the best rally of the season so far. The roads here are fast and narrow and the crowds provided a superb atmosphere. It’s the first time I have won two consecutive rallies and it has put me into the lead of the championship ahead of my home rally in Finland. The weekend was perfect from start to finish. After Loeb’s mistake on Friday, I thought I might have an easy drive but it wasn’t to be. I had to drive flat out yesterday to stay ahead and it’s a fantastic feeling to win after such a great fight,” said Hirvonen, who was under pressure from teammate Latvala as well.

“A huge disappointment. Worst ever for me, and probably Ford’s worst disappointment in their history. I simply turned in too early,” said Latvala.

Sordo took the gift as all three leaders headed into the final five special stages holding position and taking today’s route conservatively due to the points for not only the drivers’ but the also the manufacturers’ championship. The young Spaniard did his job and Citroen has 106 points to the BP-Ford team’s 89.

“Seb’s (Loeb’s) problem on Day 1 put me in a difficult situation because it meant I really had to make sure I finished at least third to be sure of finishing in the big point. Even so, I still managed to post some top times at a time when the two Ford drivers were both going flat out,” said Sordo.

The battle for fourth, which later turned out to be the final podium spot, was between Sebastien Ogier, Petter Solberg and Henning Solberg. Ogier won the opening stage and Henning Solberg took the next two stage fastest times for the win. On the third special stage, Ogier suffered engine problems. That left the two brothers to battle it out, with Petter edging out Henning on SS17 for third, but the gap still remained at 21,2 seconds with only the short superspecial left. Henning eventually took the spoils.

“Wow, what an end to the rally, it’s very sad for Ford but the podium is fantastic for me. We have come a long way since Thursday when the feeling after shakedown wasn’t very good and today the car has been much better. I’ve been driving as fast as I can on this rally and really been pushing hard in the battle with Petter; the fastest stage times we had today prove just that.”

As the season progresses, it actually favours Hirvonen – as three of the remaining four events on the calendar It is now literally a new season for the WRC title, with Hirvonen holding a slim one-point lead over Loeb, and only four rallies left.

The surfaces favour Hirvonen, as three of the remaining four events feature gravel surfaces, with Rally Catalunya as the only tarmac rally, on which Loeb is unmatched. But Loeb did win Finland last year, so Hirvonen will have his work cut out for him to keep the five-time champion behind him in the standings on the Finn’s home event.