Hirvonen secures first win as Ford stretches lead in title fight Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen claimed their maiden world rally victory in Australia today as the BP-Ford World Rally Team increased its lead in the FIA World Rally Championship.
Hirvonen secures first win as Ford stretches lead in title fight
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen claimed their maiden world rally victory in Australia today as the BP-Ford World Rally Team increased its lead in the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finns won Rally Australia in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car by 37.1sec. Team-mates Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen finished fifth in another Focus RS as BP-Ford widened its lead in the manufacturers' series to 16 points.
This was the team's sixth victory of the season and, in terms of rally wins, this is now Ford's most successful season ever in world rallying.
The four-day event, round 14 of the 16-rally series, was based on dusty gravel tracks near Perth in Western Australia, the 19th and final time that the west coast has hosted the rally. The 26 speed tests covering 348.51km were as demanding as ever, as millions of tiny ball-bearing like stones coated the road surfaces and made conditions treacherously slippery in temperatures touching 30C. However, BFGoodrich's tyres played a crucial role in Hirvonen's success, cutting through the gravel to the harder, more grippier, surface beneath.
As many top drivers fell foul of conditions on the opening morning, Hirvonen steered clear of trouble and took a firm grip at the front towards the end of the leg. He matched his pace to that of his rivals for the remaining two days to secure an emotional success.
"This is fantastic!" said Hirvonen, who won seven speed tests. "I had so much pressure, not only to win but also to bring the car home for manufacturers' points. Petter pushed me hard but I didn't want him to get too close and it felt good to keep him back. I wasn't too nervous and I concentrated on controlling my speed and rhythm. Now the plan is to win the manufacturers' title.
"I'm still young and to score my first win at just 26 is good. I can't believe I have finally done it. The team placed a lot of faith in me and it is a big relief to pay them back. It will take a lot of time to sink in. Before this I had scored podium finishes but the only way for me to learn is to fight for wins and that's what I did here. I know the Focus RS well and on the last four rallies I've learned a lot about my driving - I've been more consistent at high speed," added Hirvonen.
Gronholm dropped 11 minutes after rolling on Friday morning. However, the team calculated that he could regain fifth and score valuable points for BP-Ford in the manufacturers' championship. The 38-year-old Finn recovered from 56th and last position to claim fifth on the second of today's six special stages, covering 103.32km, east of Perth. His fightback means BP-Ford leads by 16 points with a maximum 36 available from the final two rounds in New Zealand and Britain.
"I'm pleased that after losing so much time on Friday I was able to score points and help the team move further ahead in the manufacturers' championship," said Gronholm, winner of 10 speed tests. "The team and the car are looking really strong and we are in a great position. I'm really happy for Mikko. This win will really boost his confidence and I'm sure he will be confident of beating me now! I'm sad we are not coming back to Perth again because it's a fantastic rally, a great place and the people are so friendly. I will miss it."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said it was a 'dream result' for Hirvonen. "Mikko was confident and always felt he had the rally in his control once he took the lead. I've seen him mature throughout the season and the way he handled the pressure over the last two days was fantastic. I'm sure this is a platform for him to go on to score more wins. Marcus did well to recover to fifth after his problems. He worked hard in firstly getting the car back on the road after his crash and then fighting back up the leaderboard to score valuable manufacturer points," added Wilson.
Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito said: "This is a special day for everyone at BP-Ford. We put our faith in Mikko and Jarmo this season and they have come through to win their first rally. They join drivers of the calibre of Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb as the only ones to win this year."
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Gronholm's fifth place finish means that the absent Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) is crowned world champion for the third time (subject to the official publication of results by the FIA). Loeb broke his right arm in a mountain bike crash last month and has missed the last two rallies. Gronholm needed a podium finish to keep the title race active. Petter Solberg (Subaru) claimed his best result since Rally Argentina in April by finishing second ahead of Manfred Stohl (Peugeot). Xevi Pons (Citroen) and Gronholm were the only other WRC cars in the top 10.
The championship stays in Australasia for the 15th and penultimate round next month. Hamilton hosts the gravel Rally New Zealand on 16 - 19 November.