WRC Mikko Hirvonen clinches Polish Rally win in dramatic finale
ORLEN Platinum 66th Rally Poland
FIA World Rally Championship, round 8
For immediate release
Sunday, June 28th, 2009
HIRVONEN SEALS NINTH WRC WIN AND CHAMPIONSHIP
LEAD IN ORLEN PLATINUM 66TH RALLY POLAND
- Latvala crashes on final stage; Sordo and Citroën claim second
- Abbring becomes youngest JWRC winner in late stage drama
- Loeb storms back to claim championship points for seventh
MIKOLAJKI (Poland): Mikko Hirvonen claimed his ninth WRC win in the ORLEN Platinum 66th Rally Poland on Sunday.
A second successive WRC triumph also moved the Finnish driver a single point clear of seventh-placed Sébastien Loeb in the FIA Drivers’ Championship. Driving a Ford Focus RS and co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen, Hirvonen began the day with a 12-second lead and finished 1m 10.3s clear of Dani Sordo
“It is unbelievable to win the event and what a fantastic, exciting rally,” admitted Hirvonen. “I have the lead now in the championship and the next event is at home in Finland.”
But Ford’s triumph was marred by a shock accident on the final super special stage, when Jari-Matti Latvala threw away second position and eight Manufacturers’ Championship points for the Blue Oval. He struck a barrel, collided with the armco and damaged the Ford’s suspension. It was a shocking mistake by Latvala.
The stunned Finn tried to push his Focus to the stage finish, but the incident infuriated his team and handed the advantage back to Citroën in the Manufacturers’ Championship. The French team now heads to Finland with a 17-point lead in the series.
Spaniard Dani Sordo challenged hard for two days, but he lost valuable seconds on the first stage of day three and looked like settling for third position and six crucial championship points for the Citroën team until he was handed second on the super special.
Sébastien Ogier was able to pull away from both Henning and Petter Solberg during the day to consolidate fourth overall, but the promising Frenchman ground to a halt in the 16th stage with engine failure and Henning eventually beat his brother to seal third position when Latvala was sidelined.
Krzysztof Holowczyc and Matthew Wilson became embroiled in a bitter fight for sixth, with the three-time Polish event winner sneaking up on the Briton throughout the morning. But Wilson hit back in SS16 and clung on to the end to ensure the Stobart team claimed their 250th championship point for an eventual fifth position.
Holowczyc duly recorded the first points for a Polish driver in WRC history and beat his former career-best finish of seventh in the Rally of Argentina in 1998.
Former runaway championship leader, Loeb, wrecked his chances of a sixth win of the year on the fourth stage. He struggled through the field from 32nd overall at the end of day one to eventually seal seventh, when predicted team orders dictated that Conrad Rautenbach and Evgeny Novikov became the sacrificial lambs to make way for the World Champion.
Pole Michal Bebenek finished 10th and won Group N in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX.
Kevin Abbring and Michael Kościuszko entertained the crowds with a stunning display of car control in the JWRC category, but a 16th stage collision with a rock cost the Pole a much-needed finish and ensured the Abbring entered the record books by becoming the youngest winner (20 years, 159 days) of a JWRC round in WRC history.
Poland’s first event in the modern-day FIA World Rally Championship and its first entry into the top flight of rallying since 1973 was heralded as a great success. Massive crowds – with an estimated 12,000 at the televised final Mikolajki stage alone - witnessed the action in the Mazurian Lake District of north-east Poland.
Leading drivers likened the fast, flowing gravel stages to Finland and the rally benefited from a compact route and slick organisation, although inclement weather made on-stage conditions challenging from the start.
Sunday – SS14/SS18
Ford’s team principal Malcolm Wilson openly admitted that the first run through the Milki and Tros stages would be critical in determining whether Hirvonen could hold on to his 12-second overnight lead.
Sordo had been instructed to continue pushing hard by Citroën management but the Spaniard lost 18 vital seconds in the latter section of the Milki stage, when he misjudged a slow corner, and a flying Latvala reduced Hirvonen’s lead to just 9.5 seconds and likened the stage to the Manx Rally.
An impressive Ogier set the fastest time and beat both the factory Fords. Henning Solberg managed to re-pass his brother and reclaim fifth position, when Petter complained of engine oil smearing his windscreen, caused by a loose dipstick.
Holowczyc closed to within 18 seconds of seventh-placed Wilson, Novikov punctured and Mads Ostberg lost his place in the top 10 after sliding off the road.
With Sordo slipping out of realistic contention for the top two, Hirvonen and Latvala began to manage their stage pace more accurately using split times in Tros.
A fraction of a second separated them in the stage, while Loeb was up to 12th overall and questions were being asked whether Citroën management would instruct Novikov and Rautenbach to ease back for the sake of the French team’s challenge for the FIA Manufacturers’ Championship. Holowczyc maintained his quest for Wilson’s seventh place and the gap closed to just 10 seconds.
The contest was all but settled in Hirvonen’s favour through SS16. Latvala obeyed the Ford instruction to ease his pace and the pair of Ford Focuses headed into the second Tros stage firmly on course for victory. But no-one could have predicted the agonizing drama and the dramatic scenes that unfolded on those final kilometres for Latvala.
Ogier’s dream of fourth position faded in Milki with engine failure, as Henning Solberg remained on course to pip his brother to fourth overall.
Abbring headed Kościuszko by just 0.8 seconds at the start of day three in the JWRC category and the pace was fierce through the Milki stage, with the Pole retaking the lead by just one tenth of a second. The gap rose to 1.8 seconds after Tros to set up a thrilling climax to the JWRC over the final three stages.
But fate dealt Kościuszko a cruel hand in SS16; the Pole left the road after hitting a rock, scraped a tree and damaged the radiator. He managed to get got going again before stopping for a second time with engine problems. Abbring duly inherited the lead with open arms, Martin Prokop saw his championship aspirations rekindled with second place and Frenchman Yoann Bonato overcame an oil leak to take third.
ORLEN Platinum 66th Rally Poland – positions after SS18:
1. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS 3h 07m 45.8s
2. Dani Sordo (E)/Marc Marti (E) Citroën C4 3h 08m 37.8 s
3. Henning Solberg (N)/Cato Menkerud (N) Ford Focus RS 3h 09m 33.2s
4. Petter Solberg (N)/Philip Mills (GB) Citroën Xsara 3h 09m 51.8s
5. Matthew Wilson (GB)/Scott Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS 3h 11m 45.0 s
6. Krzysztof Holowczyc (PL)/Lukasz Kurzeja (PL) Ford Focus RS 3h 12m 01.4s
7. Sebastien Loeb (F)?Daniel Elena (F) Citroën C4 3h 26m 42.5s
8. Conrad Rautenbach (ZW)/Dale Moscatt (AUS) Citroën C4 WRC 3h 26m 48.1s
9. Evgeny Novikov (RUS)/Dale Moscatt (AUS) Citroën C4 WRC 3h 26m 53.7s
10. Michal Bebenek (PL)/Grzegorz Bebenek (PL) Mitsubishi 3h 30m 36.2s
2009 Drivers' Championship - positions after round 8 of 12
1. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) 58 pts
2. Sébastien Loeb (F) 57 pts
3. Dani Sordo (E) 39 pts
4. Henning Solberg (N) 27 pts
5. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) 25 pts
5. Petter Solberg (N) 25 pts
7. Matthew Wilson (GB) 19 pts
2009 Manufacturers' Championship - positions after round 8 of 12
1. Citroën Total World Rally Team 106 pts
2. BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 89 pts
3. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team 60 pts
4. Citroën Junior Rally Team 29 pts
5. Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team 18 pts
1. Martin Prokop 36pts
2. Michal Kosciuszko 36pts
3. Aaron Burkart 30pts
4. Kevin Abbring 22pts