Whilst tracking the pace of their closest challengers and concentrating on keeping out of trouble on the tricky Sardinian stages, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen still managed to increase their lead at the Rally Italia.
Holding a minute and half lead for tomorrow’s sixteen kilometres of timed sections, the Finnish crew took a giant leap towards their first win with the Citroën Total World Rally Team.
Contested on roads around fifty kilometres south of Olbia, today’s three stages formed a 60km loop that the competitors would cover twice. As on the first two days, the roads were sufficiently damp for soft tyres to be the preferred option.
“Up against Evgeny Novikov, who had four ‘S1’ tyres, I had to stay alert throughout the morning,” admitted Mikko.
Tracking the split times of the Russian as they appeared on the dashboard of his DS3 WRC, the Finn’s pace was as regular as clockwork. In finishing fourth, fifth and third on the first loop's stages, he even managed to increase his lead by almost ten seconds.
“I am taking it really easy in the toughest sections, when the road becomes rocky and narrow.
When the stages are smoother and more flowing, I can push a little more without taking the slightest risk,” explained the no.2 DS3 WRC driver.
After a half-hour stop at the Olbia Service Park, Mikko continued his display of good sense and consistency on the Sardinian roads. “We hardly changed anything during the service, apart from a minor adjustment to the suspension.
I kept racing in the same way. It really was a very long day, and sometimes it was hard to maintain the right pace. The stages were littered with rocks and some of them were bigger than a football,” commented the Finn.
“In some places, the road was so covered in rocks that you couldn’t avoid hitting some of them. In fact, we picked up a rear puncture on SS13, but it didn’t slow us down.
We’re not too far away from the win now, there are only two short stages to go. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that everything goes well right to the end!”
“Long really is the word that best describes this Saturday,” said Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “It’s never much fun to spend the day trying to negotiate rocks on the road, but that’s the price of victory in this kind of situation.
Mikko kept up his perfect race. We hope that he will win his first World Championship rally with Citroën Racing tomorrow. Every member of the team would be extremely happy for him!”
Having rejoined under Rally2 regulations, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul treated today’s third leg very much like a test session. “It was a long day for us too!
Our starting position meant we ended up sweeping loose gravel throughout the morning, but it was a good learning experience,” reflected Thierry. “It gave us the chance to work on the set-up and I felt we improved on the second run.
In fact, we set three top 5 times in the afternoon.”
Continuing their disciplined race, Luca Pedersoli and Matteo Romano remain 11th overall in their national rally.
Source: Citroen Racing