Driving to the splits of his rival, Mikko Hirvonen reinforced his lead to bring home a thoroughly deserved podium.
M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen delivered a superb drive at the 50th edition of RallyRACC - Rally de España this weekend – piloting their Ford Fiesta RS WRC to the third step of the podium.
The Finn secured his maiden FIA World Rally Championship podium at the event in 2005, and repeated that same feat today.
Having established a strong base on which to build through Friday’s gravel stages, Hirvonen embarked on the event’s asphalt tests with his eyes firmly fixed on the podium.
It has been too long since we’ve been on the podium and everything just worked perfectly this weekend.
Making the most of the team’s extensive pre-event test, he was able to draw confidence from Michelin’s upgraded Pilot Sport tyre. Finding a set-up which allowed the car and tyres to work in harmony, he set a string of competitive and consistent stage times which propelled him into the coveted third place.
Having established a 30 second advantage over fourth-placed man Mads Østberg, he embarked on the final day of competition with the situation fully under control. Driving to the splits of his rival, the Finn reinforced his lead to bring home a thoroughly deserved podium.
Having secured a strong haul of points, Hirvonen has strengthened his fourth place in the drivers’ championship as well as the team’s position in the manufacturers’ standings. The result also saw Lehtinen climb into third position in the co-drivers’ standings with just one event left to run.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, it was a difficult weekend for Elfyn Evans. Having to accept Rally 2 regulations following a mistake on the first day of competition, the Welshman was quick to put the disappointment behind him but found he was chasing the optimum set-up for the event’s asphalt tests.
Having made some changes to their Fiesta, he and co-driver Daniel Barritt felt more comfortable through today’s final stages and were able to extract more performance from the car and tyres.
Building their confidence as the event progressed, the pairing have established a good platform on which to build when they return to the Costa Daurada for the second time in a world rally car next year.
Mikko Hirvonen (3rd) said: “I’m really happy. It has been too long since we’ve been on the podium and everything just worked perfectly this weekend. From the beginning we had a good pace on gravel and then really good speed on Tarmac as well.
“We had a good set-up and I like Michelin’s new tyres. They are a lot more progressive which I think suits me better and they work really well with the Fiesta. Everything just gave me confidence this weekend and we were able to set a really strong and consistent pace as a result.
“I’m really happy – and for Jarmo [Lehtinen, co-driver] and the whole team as well. We’re finally back on the podium and it’s great to finish the weekend like this."
Elfyn Evans (14th) said: “It’s been a difficult rally for us. Friday was very difficult and the two days on Tarmac were okay, but maybe not what we were expecting based on the previous events.
“I made too many silly mistakes on Friday. If we had managed to stay on the road, then I think I would have been happy with the pace but in reality we weren’t in any sort of a battle after that. Then on Tarmac we had a chance to play around with the set-up to find out what worked well and what didn’t work quite so well. Of course we’ve learnt a lot and as a result we’ll be sure to come back stronger next year.
“Now our attention turns to Wales and our home event. The preparation starts now and I’m determined to end the season with a positive result.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “Mikko [Hirvonen] has been absolutely fantastic this weekend – he has a huge smile on his face and rightly so. He drove extremely well, on both gravel and asphalt. He and the team worked hard on our pre-event test and found a set-up that really suited both him and Michelin’s new tyres. There has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes – by Mikko and Jarmo [Lehtinen, co-driver], by the team and by Michelin – and this result is credit to all of those people.
“It’s fair to say that Elfyn [Evans] was a little disappointed with the way the weekend unfolded for him. Unlike Mikko, he struggled to find a set-up that best suited his driving style and had been on the back foot because of that. It’s something that comes with experience, but he felt a lot more comfortable today and was able to secure an additional manufacturers’ point for the team which could make all the difference at the final round in Wales.
“With just 12 points separating second to fourth in the battle for second place in the manufacturers’ title, I think that it is going to be a very exciting end to the season. If we can secure fourth place in the drivers’ standings along with second in the manufacturers’, it would be an absolutely fantastic achievement for the team.”
M-Sport World Rally