Citroën World Rally Team newcomers Mikko Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen emerged victorious after four days in tough conditions during the fourth round of this year’s WRC season. After initially leaving the rally elated at his first win with the new team and lead in the driver’s championship, Hirvonen and Citroën were stripped of all points following an examination by FIA delegates on the winning DS3 WRC – Hirvonen’s car.
The win was especially sweet considering that Sebastien Loeb had retired on day one and that main rivals from Ford, Petter and Solberg, were also out of contention following trouble navigating the tricky second leg, which was plagued with mud. “I’m relieved more than anything because this has been a very difficult rally. The conditions were very tough so it’s great to come through with no problems and win for Citroën,” Hirvonen initially said after the event.
With the top contenders out, Mads Ostberg (Adapta World Rally Team) and Evgeny Novikov (Stobart M-Sport) capitalised to take the remaining podium spots – their best finishes in WRC thus far. The second place was bitter-sweet for Ostberg, who wanted to chase Hirvonen but lost power in his Fiesta. “I don’t know if I am more happy with second place or with making it to the end of the rally! It has been really hard for me to hold back over the last two days because we have slowed down a lot, admitted Ostberg."
Novikov was not without difficulty, too. “I have been waiting for this moment for a very long time. I am really very happy that we could achieve such a strong result. We had a scary moment on SS21 when the throttle pedal came off completely and we could only fix it on the road section. But we did so, using cable-ties and some tape!" Novikov stated.
After the celebrations, however, officials deemed that two parts on Hirvonen’s winning DS3 were different from homologation specifications and vetoed the outcome, taking the Finn out of the standings as well as Citroën’s points haul.
“We had no intention whatsoever to cheat and the decision appears out of proportion. Given the fact that the reported differences didn’t bring us any advantage, we’ve decided to appeal. At the moment, most of all I feel sorry for Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, who produced a superb performance on a particularly difficult rally. They really deserved their first win with us. All I can do, on behalf of the entire team, is offer my sincere apologies for this situation. I hope that Mikko and Jarmo will have the chance to top the podium again very soon,” stated Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team principal.
"The scrutineers identified differences in between the homologation sheet and two components: the clutch and the turbocharger. The Citroën DS3 WRC's clutch mechanisms are homologated with lightening holes. Our supplier recently provided us with a batch of parts that were not perforated and one of them was fitted to the second DS3 WRC. These parts don't provide any gain in terms of performance, as they are heavier than those which are homologated. Regarding the turbocharger, which is a standard part on all World Rally Cars, the wheel turbine dimension exceed the maximum authorised. This difference comes from dilatation, as the wheel is subject to extreme temperature and r/min factors," explained Citroën's technical director, Xavier Mestelan-Pinon.