Mikko Hirvonen was fastest through this evening's Rally Finland qualifying stage to spark early celebrations among his home town fans in the rally base of Jyvaskyla.
Hirvonen was quickest through the 4.62km Ruuhimaki stage in a Citroen DS3 by 0.248sec from championship leader Sebastien Ogier’s Volkswagen Polo R. A surprise third was Thierry Neuville in a Ford Fiesta RS, 0.437sec adrift of Hirvonen.
Under cloudy skies and humid conditions, Hirvonen admitted at the stage finish that fastest time left him with a tough decision to make later this evening regarding his start position.
“It was an OK stage, but it could have been better,” said the 2009 Rally Finland winner. “I have no idea about what road position to choose, so I don’t know if it was good to be fastest here or not.”
There was no disguising the fire in Neuville’s belly. “I really want to fight this weekend,” said the Belgian. “The stage was perfect but I nearly stalled on the start line. I don’t know how much time I lost but then I pushed to the maximum.”
Evgeny Novikov was fourth in a Fiesta RS, while Jari-Matti Latvala was only fifth in the second Polo R. The Finn had to contend with some padding in the car’s footwell, which had fallen from the area between the roll cage and his seat but he refused to use that as an excuse.
"I was a bit too cautious, especially in the narrow section, where I braked too early for a couple of corners," said Latvala.
Andreas Mikkelsen rounded off the top six, which was covered by less than a second. The Norwegian felt his Polo R was losing traction at the rear in right hand corners while Mads Ostberg believed his Fiesta RS collected a puncture just 200 metres after the start. He was seventh.
Hesitant Hirvonen holds back in Finland
Mikko Hirvonen has opted to start tomorrow's opening leg of Rally Finland at the back of the pack of top priority drivers.
The Finn was fastest in qualifying earlier this evening in his Citroen DS3, earning the right to choose his start position first. And although Hirvonen elected to begin the 48.24km leg last of the top 14 drivers, he admitted to concerns over his decision given the uncertainty of the weather.
Second quickest Sebastien Ogier opted for the next lowest start position, just in front of Hirvonen. The Frenchman smiled: “I was happy that Mikko was faster because I could see what position he chose. It gives me an idea of Citroen’s weather forecast!”
All the following drivers opted for the next lowest position available.
Finn Riku Tahko, who was slowest in qualifying, will start first. If it stays dry, he faces the unenviable task of sweeping gravel from the road surface to leave an increasingly cleaner and faster line for those behind.
The full start order is:
1. Riku Tahko
2. Martin Prokop
3. P-G Andersson
4. Jarkko Nikara
5. Dani Sordo
6. Kris Meeke
7. Juho Hanninen
8. Mads Ostberg
9. Andreas Mikkelsen
10. Jari-Matti Latvala
11. Evgeny Novikov
12. Thierry Neuville
13. Sebastien Ogier
14. Mikko Hirvonen