Last stage drama leaves Hirvonen ..

in final day fight for podium

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen face a final leg tussle for a podium finish on Rallye Deutschland after a difficult day's driving over Germany's tricky asphalt speed tests.  The Finns fought hard for second in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car until they hit a hole and punctured in the final few kilometres.  They lost 45sec and dropped to fourth with just the shortest day's competition remaining in this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship.  

Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila are ninth after rolling their Focus RS WRC this morning and struggling to regain their confidence during the afternoon special stages.  Both cars remain in points-scoring positions for the current manufacturers' world championship leaders. 

Today's action was located south-east of the rally base in Trier, Germany's oldest city, on a mix of flowing countryside roads in Saarland and the tank training roads of the Baumholder military area.  Drivers tackled two identical loops of four tests covering 159.76km, each loop containing the daunting Panzerplatte stage – feared for its constantly changing surface and massive concrete 'hinkelstein' kerb stones which sit on the edge of the tracks and are designed to keep tanks on the roads.

Hirvonen began the day in second on the debut event for the 2008-specification Focus RS WRC.  However, the 28-year-old was unable to match yesterday's pace and dropped to third behind Dani Sordo on the opening test.  He struggled for rhythm and, despite battling hard to regain second, looked likely to end the day in third until he punctured his car's rear left tyre 8km from the end of the last stage.  He will restart tomorrow just 3.9sec behind François Duval.

"I didn't have any rhythm and made many small mistakes," said a disappointed Hirvonen.  "I didn't trust my pace notes first time through the stages so I was too cautious and that's where I lost time.  If there was a cut at a corner, I seemed to back off to see how slippery it was.  I need to be braver and I didn't have the confidence to drive flat out like yesterday.  No matter how hard I drove, I couldn't match Sordo's times.  The only difference from yesterday was that the stages had different characteristics.  They were more like race circuit roads.

"On the final stage I hit a hole and the broken concrete punctured the rear tyre.  I drove the final 8km on the wheel rim.  I would have been happy to clear that stage and settle for third tomorrow.  I dropped 45sec but there was no way I could have stopped to change it in that time so I made the right decision to continue.  Now I need to fight against Duval tomorrow and that won't be easy," he added.

Latvala maintained his overnight fifth until he crashed in the penultimate stage of the opening loop.  "I had a slight error in my pace notes about 3km from the finish and I came over a crest, flat out in fifth gear, into a chicane sooner than I expected," he explained.  "I was going too fast and tried to avoid the bales by going into a field alongside the road.  There was a ditch between the road and the field and the car jumped and I rolled lightly into the field.  It was stuck and I had to wait for people to push me out."

The impact caused the oil to leak from the rear differential fan.  The crew had the necessary oil in the car so they removed the fan, reconnected the pipes and topped up the oil.  Twenty-three-year-old Latvala lost 90sec in the stage and incurred a 30sec penalty as they made repairs to slip to 10th.

He regained one place this afternoon, but struggled to find his form.  "It's hard to find my confidence.  I'm afraid in the braking areas so I'm braking too early.  I want to climb up as far as I can tomorrow but I need to regain my rhythm," added Latvala.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr are 14th in another Focus RS WRC after an incident-packed day.  "When I woke up and saw the weather, I decided to go for it," said Al Qassimi.  "However, the grass at the edge of the stages holds a lot of moisture and I went off the road.  I smashed into some trees, thankfully they were only small, but it cost time.  Things were going well this afternoon but during stage 13 there was smoke inside the car and I was reluctant to push hard until the mechanics had a look at it.  I also went off in the same stage.  It was a messy corner and I overshot the bend.  I applied the handbrake - it wasn’t enough and I slid into a field and lost around 40sec."

News from our Rivals

Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) dominated the day and won seven of the eight stages to extend his lead to 40.3sec over team-mate Dani Sordo, who won the other test.  Stobart driver François Duval (Ford) claimed third after Hirvonen's final stage puncture, despite sliding into a corn field on the opening stage.  Behind Hirvonen, team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson (both Subaru) completed the top six, Atkinson's car losing its launch control system at the start of the final stage.  Lower down the leaderboard Per-Gunnar Andersson (Suzuki) hit a kerb on the second stage this morning, damaging a rear wheel hub and suspension.  He limped through the remaining morning tests, dropping more than five minutes and lies 16th.

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