as Hirvonen and Latvala seal 1-2 finish
Master tactics paid dividends for BP Ford World Rally Team as it claimed a 1-2 finish on a thrilling Rally of Turkey yesterday. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen claimed their second win of the FIA World Rally Championship season in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to move back into the lead of the drivers standings by three points. Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were just 7.9sec behind in another Focus RS as Ford extended its lead in the manufacturers' series to nine points.
The maximum points haul enabled Ford to create rallying history by scoring points on 100 consecutive rallies, a feat never achieved since the WRC was launched in 1973.
After dominating Friday's opening leg to hold first and second, Hirvonen and Latvala deliberately eased their pace in the final few metres to drop down the leaderboard to gain better road conditions yesterday. A lower start position meant they avoided the huge disadvantage of being first and second on roads covered by slippery loose gravel. Instead, they benefited from the cleaning process of the cars ahead, who swept stones from the surface to leave a cleaner and faster line on which to attack.
Ford's Finns rocketed back to first and second yesterday morning and attacked hard to build as big a lead as possible over championship rival Sébastien Loeb, who swept the roads, in third. Hirvonen and Latvala had the unwanted 'cleaning' role today, but the buffer was big enough to hold off a determined charge from Loeb during the final 31.03km speed test to claim the team's second 1-2 of the season.
This eighth round of the season was based in Kemer, a bustling holiday resort on Turkey's southern coast. Drivers tackled 19 special stages covering 360.12km in the Anatolian mountains which tower above the town. Air temperatures topped 34ºC while the thermometer reached 48ºC on the rocky gravel roads, which combined to provide a tough test for cars and Pirelli's Scorpion tyres.
A delighted Hirvonen described the weekend as 'amazing'. "I promised Malcolm Wilson I would lead the championship going into my home rally in Finland next month and I am. It was an incredibly hard weekend for drivers, cars and tyres and a great battle with Jari-Matti, which I'm so happy to win. It was the right moment for a win because we struggled on the last round in Greece and this is perfect timing. It feels very special to beat a four-time world champion in a straight fight," he said.
"Our tactics worked so well and I didn't panic this morning when I was first on the road and had to sweep the stages. This is my best result because it was such a big team effort. I was so nervous and drove so carefully in the final stage to preserve my tyres. It looks like it will be an exciting championship battle in the second half of the season. Now I just want to go home and see my sons," said 27-year-old Hirvonen, who felt ill throughout the rally and has been unable to eat.
Latvala was happy with second after losing almost a minute with two opening day punctures. "I came here wanting a top three finish so I'm pleased I was able to fight for victory. I lacked experience of these roads but that wasn't as big a disadvantage as I thought. We played good tactics and it was a big risk, but a good decision. I've learned to keep my driving tidy. I was kind on my tyres for the first half of the final stage and that paid off. This has given a major boost to my confidence," he said.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson collected the Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally Award on behalf of the team and presented it to Ford of Europe chairman Lewis Booth, a keen spectator here during the weekend. "Tactics won in the end and what our two young drivers did this weekend was nothing short of special. It was a brave decision to drop time on Friday but it proved the right one. I'm proud of the drivers and the team and it's a great way to end the first half of the season. It was the drive of Mikko's life and it's fantastic to lead both series going into the mid-season break. Days don't get much better than this," said Wilson.
Ford of Europe's motorsport director Mark Deans added: "The consistency required in achieving 100 consecutive points finishes is remarkable as the WRC is the toughest competition in motorsport for production-based cars. It demanded an outstanding blend of speed, strength and reliability from the Focus RS World Rally Car as well as some sterling performances from the drivers behind the wheel. It was a perfect weekend for the team and a great weekend for Ford, with six Focus cars in the top 10."
Team Round Up
Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) took third but slipped to second in the drivers' standings with team-mate Dani Sordo claiming fourth. Sordo moved ahead of Stobart driver Henning Solberg (Ford) on the opening stage and the gap between the pair was just 8.1sec at the finish. Petter Solberg (Subaru) rounded off the top six ahead of Stobart driver Matthew Wilson (Ford). Ninth and 10th for Munchi's drivers Federico Villagra and Barry Clark (both Ford) was enough for the final manufacturers' points.
The championship pauses for a summer break and returns with Rally Finland, one of the year's classic events, on 31 July - 3 August. The gravel rally is based in Jyväskylä.
Final positions 1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 42min 07.1sec 2. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 42min 15.0sec 3. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 4hr 42min 32.8sec 4. D Sordo/M Marti ESP Citroen C4 4hr 44min 32.7sec 5. H Solberg/C Menkerud NOR Ford Focus RS 4hr 44min 40.8sec 6. P Solberg/P Mills NOR Subaru Impreza 4hr 44min 55.3sec 7. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS 4hr 46min 31.3sec 8. C Rautenbach/D Senior ZIM Citroen C4 4hr 49min 53.8sec 9. F Villagra/J Perez Companc ARG Ford Focus RS 4hr 51min 41.2sec 10 B Clark/P Nagle GB Ford Focus RS 4hr 56min 55.9sec
Drivers 1. M Hirvonen 59pts 2. S Loeb 56pts 3. J-M Latvala 34pts 4. C Atkinson 31pts 5. D Sordo 30pts 6. P Solberg 20pts
Manufacturers 1. BP Ford Abu Dhabi 99pts 2. Citroen Total 90pts 3. Subaru 53pts 4. Stobart VK M-Sport 41pts 5. Munchi's Ford 19pts 6. Suzuki 10pts
Stage 17: 1. Aava 25min 07.5sec; 2. Mikkelsen + 3.9; 3. Sordo + 5.8; 4. Latvala + 7.4; 5. Loeb + 8.2; 6. P Solberg + 14.8; 7. Hirvonen + 16.1.
Overall: 1. Hirvonen 4hr 13min 01.3sec; 2. Latvala + 7.5; 3. Loeb + 26.4; 4. Sordo + 2:04.8; 5. H Solberg + 2:12.9; 6. P Solberg + 2:32.4.
Stage 18: 1. Loeb 4min 11.2sec; 2. Hirvonen + 0.9; 3. Atkinson + 3.9; 4. Latvala + 6.1; 5. Mikkeslen + 6.8; 6. Aava + 7.1.
Overall: 1. Hirvonen 4hr 17min 13.4sec; 2. Latvala + 12.7; 3. Loeb + 25.5; 4. Sordo + 2:14.3; 5. H Solberg + 2:21.4; 6. P Solberg + 2:42.1.
Stage 19: 1. Latvala 24min 48.9sec; 2. Hirvonen + 4.8; 3. Loeb + 5.0; 4. P: Solberg + 10.9; 5. Atkinson + 14.9; 6. Sordo + 16.1.
Overall: 1. Hirvonen 4hr 42min 07.1sec; 2. Latvala + 7.9; 3. Loeb + 25.7; 4. Sordo + 2:25.6; 5. H Solberg + 2:33.7; 6. P Solberg + 2:48.2.