Hirvonen avoids Portuguese pitfalls

Despite being cut in half following the cancellation of the second loop, day two of Rally de Portugal was packed full of incident. After skilfully negotiating the incredibly muddy stages and the foggy conditions, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen grabbed the lead in the overall standings at the end of SS6.

The Finns are now over half a minute clear of their closest challengers.Rain began to fall on Thursday afternoon, and became heavier during the evening. Up to 40 millimetres of rain fell overnight on the roads featured in the stages on day two, which lie high up in the mountains overlooking the coast. The crews were therefore no longer worried about clouds of dust; instead, they would have to deal with another natural element: mud!Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen left the service park in their DS3 WRC fitted with soft Michelin Latitude Cross tyres, which are more effective in wet conditions. Although generally speaking, it is a disadvantage to be first on the road on gravel, it can become a huge advantage when the ground becomes sodden. First out on the road, Dani Sordo set the fastest times on all three of the morning’s stages, while the leading drivers – including Mikko – had to cope with a racing line covered with greasy mud.In spite of setting times which seemed rather modest compared with the fastest time, Mikko Hirvonen produced a faultless performance. While his rivals went off the road, the Finn navigated the tricky conditions with aplomb to grab the lead at the end of SS6.With a lead of over half a minute on Novikov and Østberg, the Citroën Total World Rally Team driver described what he had been through this morning: “It’s not the first time we have had such difficult conditions, but what we were faced with this morning was fairly exceptional. Obviously, there was a lot of mud, but there was also a lot of fog. In some places, the visibility was so poor that you couldn’t even see the end of the corner! There were also many grip changes and so we had to drive slowly, sometimes in first or second gear. For the moment, we are in the lead. We need to keep going.”Held up by a car stuck in a watersplash on a road section, the rally did not restart on schedule in the afternoon. All of the competitors still out on the course waited expectantly for news. After initially cancelling just SS10, Clerk of the Course finally announced that the entire second loop was cancelled for safety reasons.“I would have preferred to continue with the rally to try and increase my lead, but I think this decision has been taken for the right reasons”, said Mikko Hirvonen. “I could have ended up making a mistake too, so the situation isn’t so bad for me.”“This rally certainly is different,” commented Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “Yesterday evening, we thought we had lost out pretty badly after Sébastien Loeb’s crash. From then, our hopes only rested with Mikko, who has coped perfectly with the conditions today. We are now in a strong position to win the rally, but to do just that, we’ll have to contend with the elements. We still have two difficult days ahead of us.”

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