Mikko Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich), the surprise guest
Mikko Hirvonen sprang a surprise today by wining the WRC’s newcomer, the Rally Norway. The youngster led from flag to flag, while fellow Finn Marcus Grönholm was powerless against his teammate’s superiority and contented himself with securing a maximum points haul for BP-Ford compared with a single point for rivals Citroën. The French team had a bleak weekend with Sébastien Loeb (14th) and Dani Sordo (25th) both going off. Henning Solberg profited from the final day to steal 3rd place from his brother Petter and make it an all-Ford podium.
Few punters would have gambled on victory for Ford's Mikko Hirvonen this weekend in Norway, and even fewer would have predicted the way in which he dominated his illustrious team-mate. True, Mikko Hirvonen had previously tasted victory champagne in Australia last October, but this is his first win in a straight fight against former World Champions Sébastien Loeb and Marcus Grönholm; his maiden success was scored with the Frenchman absent and after the Finn had gone off early in the event.
This weekend, however, on an event that was new to all the favourites, Mikko pulled off a genuine feat. For the first time in seven years, Marcus Grönholm was powerless on his favourite surface, snow. Also for the first time in ages, Loeb had trouble matching the pace of his Ford Focus WRC rivals, especially that of Mikko Hirvonen.
The Finnish youngster has taken his time coming to age at WRC level. His move to Subaru in 2004 was an uneasy moment in his career which was given a fresh start in 2005 driving a privately-entered Ford Focus WRC before being enlisted in the works Ford squad in 2006. Since then, he has come on slowly but surely and took his reputation to new heights this weekend.
Mikko took control on the long SS1 (30km), finishing 11.2 seconds clear of Grönholm and 17s quicker than Loeb. He then consolidated his advantage on Friday afternoon by winning the second pass over the same test (SS3) to complete Day 1 clear of his team-mate and Loeb. "I woke up in great shape on Friday morning and decided to go for it. My choice of extra long stud g-Force Ice tyres for the first two stages was ideal but I was a little surprised to find myself on top. The next day, I knew that everyone intended to attack over the 44km of SS9, so I did too. On the freshly-fallen snow, my long stud g- Force Ice tyres did the job again, but the conditions were difficult and stayed that way all day." Hirvonen effectively founded his win on his performances over the weekend's snowiest stages, when grip levels were really at their lowest.
Powerless, Marcus Grönholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) decided to settle for the silver medal and ensure a perfect Manufacturers' points crop for BP-Ford, while rivals Citroën left Norway with just one point after Sébastien Loeb and Dani Sordo both lost ground with offs on Day 2.
Sunday's highlight was the thrilling scrap between Petter and Henning Solberg, as the Norwegians gave it all they had over their nation's icy lanes to claim bronze. Ford/BFGoodrich's Henning ended up getting the better over his brother Petter (Subaru/BFGoodrich) to make it an all-Ford podium.
Jari-Matti Latvala (5th, Ford/BFGoodrich) could well have finished inside the top-three had he not taken a big time penalty early in the event following a steering problem.