Hirvonen extends Ford's record in world championship Ford today extended its remarkable points-scoring record in the FIA World Rally Championship when Finland's Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished sixth on the gruelling Cyprus Rally in ...
Hirvonen extends Ford's record in world championship
Ford today extended its remarkable points-scoring record in the FIA World Rally Championship when Finland's Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished sixth on the gruelling Cyprus Rally in their Focus RS World Rally Car, to provide the manufacturer with its 21st consecutive points finish. It is a record which stretches back to the opening event of the 2002 season in Monte Carlo and one that is unmatched in the modern era of world rallying.
It was also the first time that 22-year-old Hirvonen, driving an M-Sport run Focus RS and competing on only his 10th world rally in his first full year of competition at the sport's top level, has scored championship points.
Today's third and final leg to the north-east of the rally base in Limassol comprised two loops of three speed tests, covering 82.86km. Ironically, after two days in temperatures approaching 40C, drivers encountered heavy rain during the afternoon special stages in the forested Machairas region.
The roads were wider and faster than the incredibly twisty gravel tracks used during the first two days, offering some respite for drivers and cars battered by two days of rocks, dust and intense heat. The conditions were so tough on this seventh round of the 14-rally series that just 17 of the original 51 starters crossed the finish podium. Yesterday's second leg witnessed the retirements of nine leading drivers, a toll not seen during a single day for many years.
After the rigours of yesterday, Hirvonen and the other survivors were today content to ease their pace, protect their cars and settle for their overnight positions. Nevertheless, Hirvonen posted fifth fastest time on four consecutive stages to safely guide home his Focus RS, which never missed a beat during three days and 341.05km of competition over some of the toughest roads in the calendar.
"I'm so happy," he said. "I've scored points for the first time and we've maintained Ford's incredible scoring record. I've really had fun today. There was lots of loose gravel on the roads this morning which meant I could slide the car and I'm sure that was also fun for the spectators. It seems everyone, including us, has driven relatively slowly, happy just to reach the finish of such a tough rally. The stages today were great, the best of the event, and the car has again run perfectly.
"It's by far the toughest rally I've ever tackled. I think it would rank about 13th on my list of favourite rallies, and I've not done that many yet! But we need events like this in the world championship and it's nice to have rallies with a different character. I've enjoyed today but I didn't like Friday and Saturday. Just reaching the finish is the best part of this rally," he added.
Amateurs Alistair Ginley and Rory Kennedy claimed the final drivers' point in a privately-entered Focus RS. The British driver and his Irish co-driver finished eighth overall.
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Petter Solberg (Subaru) claimed his second world rally victory after an untroubled final day. The Norwegian was fastest on five of the six tests to win by 4min 14.0sec. Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) had settled for second but a broken front left driveshaft on the first stage of the second loop almost cost him that. He limped through the final three tests with just three-wheel drive and held off Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) by just 2.8sec. Loeb overcame electrical problems on the final stage of the first loop, heading team-mates Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz. After Hirvonen, Armin Schwarz (Hyundai) was the only other manufacturer entry to finish.
The championship's first all-asphalt rally marks the start of the second half of the season next month when the university town of Trier hosts the Rally Deutschland on 24 - 27 July.