David C. Schilke, WRC correspondent
After four challenging days Mikko Hirvonen sailed to earn his first win of the season since joining the Citroen Total World Rally Team. The former Ford driver stayed on the road while his rivals suffered from costly setbacks and dominated the final two days of Rally de Portugal. The Flying Finn now leaves the fourth round of the World Rally Championship with a strong points lead as his teammate and closest rival, Sebastien Loeb failed to finish after retiring on the first day.
“I’m relieved more than anything because this has been a very difficult rally,” said Hirvonen to WRC media. “The conditions were very tough so it’s great to come through with no problems and win for Citroen.”
I’m relieved more than anything because this has been a very difficult rally.
Ford drivers Petter Solberg and Jari-Matti Latvala were also victims of the conditions, both drivers dropped down the order while slipping off the road on the very wet and muddy second leg. Solberg tried his best to rejoin the podium but his power steering failed him Saturday, leaving the Norwegian to fight for fourth. Times were even harder for Latvala, who finished the event 14th overall as multiple problems hindered his charge back to the front.
“The weekend was a big, big adventure!” said Solberg. “To finish fourth after everything that happened is a fantastic feeling. I was so disappointed after retiring on Friday and I didn’t sleep that night. It was so muddy and foggy that I knew anything could happen – and it did."
That left the podium open to Mads Ostberg in second and Evgeny Novikov taking third. The two Ford drivers claimed their best finishes in the WRC and boosted themselves into the top five in the championship standings. The weekend was not without problems for Ostberg, the Adapta Ford driver lost some power Saturday and was helpless to watch Hirvonen run away with the lead.
“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, said Ostberg."
“We had a good fight with Evgeny [Novikov], but I felt I was in control most of the time. Today it was just about getting through and I am really happy to make it to the end with such a good result."
Things were hard for Novikov as well, the M-Sport driver dealt with gremlins for much of the rally, “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 peddle came off completely and we could only fix it on the road section. But we did so, using cable-ties and some tape!" added the Russian.
Dani Sordo claimed the final stage of the event, designated as the weekend's Power Stage, earning three points in an otherwise disappointing weekend for the Prodive MINI team; the Spaniard finished 12th.
“I am really happy to win the powerstage," said Sordo, "it is a great way to finish the rally. I have had some really good moments on this rally and I have a lot of confidence in the car and the performance is fantastic. I can’t wait until we compete again as I think, with more luck on our side, we now have a real opportunity to do something very special with this car.”
Former Dakar winner and now Citroen privateer Nasser Al-Attiyah rounded out the top five for the premier WRC class. Hayden Paddon won the SWRC category after four challenging days in the class. The WRC Academy win went to Alastair Fisher on Saturday.
Next up is Rally Argentina at the end of April. The WRC makes their one and only appearance to South America for the longest event of the season.
See the full Rally de Portugal final results here
Mikko Hirvonen has been excluded from the rally following technical inspection. Mads Ostberg is now credited with the win. Read the full story here.