WRC Loeb crashes out and Hirvonen leads in Poland
ORLEN Platinum 66th Rally Poland
FIA World Rally Championship, round 8
For immediate release
Friday, June 26th, 2009
FORD’S HIRVONEN AND LATVALA TAKE CONTROL
AFTER FOUR SPECIAL STAGES OF RALLY POLAND
- Loeb crashes out at start of fourth Paprotki stage
- Kevin Abbring takes early lead in JWRC category
MIKOLAJKI (Poland): Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen threw the FIA World Rally Championship wide open by taking the outright lead of the ORLEN Platinum 66th Rally Poland, after four timed special stages on Friday morning.
The Finn had edged ahead of defending World Champion, Sébastien Loeb, in the high-speed third Pianki stage and, when the Frenchman reportedly clouted a hidden tree stump and was forced into retirement at the start of the final stage of the morning’s loop, Hirvonen’s chances of winning the world title for the first time were dramatically boosted.
The Finn had pipped Loeb through the 12.09km of the second Grabówka stage, but the Frenchman retained a tiny 0.5-second advantage. The pair then began to edge away from the chasing pack and Latvala and Sordo were tied for third place, 4.7 seconds behind the defending World Champion.
Mats Ostberg collected some grass in his radiator and was forced to stop and remove it and was the only leading driver to lose substantial time.
Kevin Abbring moved into an early lead in the JWRC category, the Dutchman winning the second stage by 2.2 seconds from the hard-chasing Michael Kosciuszko and Martin Prokop.
Hirvonen won the Pianki stage by 0.8 seconds and moved into the outright rally lead by just 0.3 seconds with a staggering average stage speed of 126.7km/h. Latvala edged ahead of Sordo and Petter Solberg held fifth position.
Citroën’s Olivier Quesnel quipped at the pre-event press conference that Loeb only had one accident per season –he crashed in Greece – but the Frenchman struck a low stump around one kilometre into the 33.17km Paprotki stage and was forced out. Team management will assess damage to the C4 this afternoon and determine whether the Frenchman can restart on Saturday.
Latvala set the fastest time in SS4, but Loeb’s mistake handed Hirvonen a 2.4-second overall lead and threw the race for both the FIA Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles wide open, with a resurgent Ford team closing in on their French rivals over the last three events. Sordo was now under pressure to keep his composure and reached service in Mikolajki in a distant third position, 14.7 seconds behind the leading Ford.
Evgeny Novikov had begun his climb up the leader board. The Russian was fourth quickest in the third stage, but he lost time in SS4 with a broken shock absorber over a jump and slipped to ninth. Andreas Mikkelsen was on a charge and displaced Petter Solberg to take fourth in his trusty Skoda Fabia WRC.
Rautenbach left the road on a crest in the fourth stage and damaged a wheel and his C4’s suspension, but the Zimbabwe driver was able to continue and held 10th overall.
There was a fascinating scrap for supremacy in the JWRC category between Abbring, Kosciuszko and Prokop. Abbring was 16th in the overall standings and headed back to Mikolajki with a 2.5-second lead over the Pole, with Prokop in third place. Polish wild card entrant Martin Dobrowolski retired his Citroën C2 with electrical problems.
ORLEN Platinum 66th Rally Poland –positions after SSS4:
1. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS 32m 19.5s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Ford Focus RS 32m 21.9s
3. Dani Sordo (E)/Marc Marti (E) Citroën C4 32m 34.2s
4. Andreas Mikkelsen (N)/Ola Floene (N) Skoda Fabia WRC 32m 53.6s
5. Petter Solberg (N)/Philip Mills (GB) Citroën Xsara 32m 59.5s
6. Sébastien Ogier (F)/Julien Ingrassia (F) Citroën C4 33m 11.1s
7. Henning Solberg (N)/Cato Menkerud (N) Ford Focus RS 33m 13.4s
8. Matthew Wilson (GB)/Scott Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS 33m 18.1s
9. Evgeny Novikov (RUS)/Dale Moscatt (AUS) 33m 18.5s
10. Conrad Rautenbach (ZW)/Dale Moscatt (AUS) Citroën C4 33m 34.6s