WRC Mikko Hirvonen takes stunning win in Jordan
2008 JORDAN RALLY, April 24th-April 27th 2008
2008 FIA World Rally Championship, round 5
For immediate release
Sunday, April 27th, 2008
FINLAND’S HIRVONEN TAKES STUNNING
VICTORY IN THRILLING JORDAN RALLY
Dani Sordo finishes second; third position for Subaru’s Atkinson
Frenchman Ogier clinches second successive JWRC win
UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi wins Group N category
DEAD SEA (Jordan): Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen clinched victory on the final stage of a thrilling 2008 Jordan Rally to move into the outright lead of the FIA World Rally Championship after three days of thrilling action over the sinuous gravel trails near the Dead Sea.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to win the rally, but Dani (Sordo) pushed me all the way,” said Hirvonen, who duly clinched his fifth WRC win by a margin of 1m 15.7s. “On the last stage I did not know his split times, so I was not sure if he was still pushing. Now I lead the championship and that is a good feeling.”
Jordan’s first entry into the world’s premier rally championship produced one of the most exciting events in the history of the series. Spaniards Dani Sordo and Marc Marti pushed the Ford crew all the way and led at the end of days one and two before finishing second overall. Running first on the road cost the Citroën duo dearly over the slippery surfaces, but they completed the 22 special stages well clear of the third-placed Australian Chris Atkinson and his Belgian co-driver Stéphane Prevot.
“I gave it my best go,” said Sordo. “When I missed a braking point on the last stage and had a spin I knew it was over and time to make sure I finished.”
Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila ruined their chance of taking victory when damaged suspension cost them valuable minutes, but Norwegian Henning Solberg, Britain’s Matthew Wilson and Argentina’s Federico Villagra completed the top six.
The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi looked set to become only the second Arab driver in WRC history to gain an FIA Drivers’ Championship point - Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah Bakhashab earned a point for sixth in the 2000 Acropolis Rally –but he punctured three tyres in the final Jordan River stage and slipped from seventh to ninth and out of the points.
Frenchman Sébastien Ogier clinched a second successive JWRC victory, when Estonian Jaan Mölder rolled on the penultimate stage. Al-Qassimi’s half brother Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi won the non-championship Group N category and finished 15th after the UAE’s Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum retired from 12th place on the penultimate stage. World Champion Sébastien Loeb restarted day three under the SupeRally ruling and finished 10th.
An overnight thunderstorm had settled the dust in the opening Kafrain stage, as Sordo attempted to fend off the two Fords over the opening 16.49km. But it was to no avail and Latvala regained the overall lead by setting the second fastest time behind Hirvonen. The Finns were separated by a mere 0.3 seconds heading into Wadi Shuaib, where Sordo would, once again, have to act as the ‘road sweeper’.
Loeb restarted in 11th position on the road after Saturday’s liaison section crash, but Petter Solberg was withdrawn after rolling on the final stage of day two. The Frenchman set the third quickest time in the opener.
But drama unfolded in Wadi Shuaib: Hirvonen pushed as hard as he could and managed to beat Sordo by three seconds, but Latvala was in trouble. “We did something to the suspension,” groaned the Finn at the stage finish. “About half-way through the stage I heard a crack at the rear of the car and it was noisy.” He arrived at the finish with a wheel hanging at a strange angle and tried to make emergency repairs on the road section to the punishing 41.45km Jordan River special. It looked ominous for Latvala.
The problem dropped him down the leader board to third – 44 seconds behind his team mate – as Urmo Aava also clipped a rock, bent a wheel and plummeted from fifth position, his demise duly promoting Matthew Wilson to fifth and Al-Qassimi into a point-scoring eighth. Loeb set the fastest time, with Gigi Galli in second position.
Ogier had passed Mölder into second position behind Patrick Sandell on the 16th stage on Saturday evening and was second in the JWRC category, although the Swede began the final day with a 1m 56s advantage. That all changed in the 17th stage: Sandell crashed off the road and handed the advantage to Mexico JWRC winner Ogier, who headed to the Jordan River with a 31.3 second lead over Mölder.
Neither Latvala nor Estonian Urmo Aava needed to see the menacing Jordan River special with their problems, but Sordo was the first into the gruelling border stage, trailing Hirvonen by 5.4 seconds. He held his own in superb fashion and only dropped 2.3s to the Ford, but Latvala began to lose chunks of time with his suspension damage. The Finn completed the stage and slipped to eighth overall, but there was no sign of the Estonian.
Solberg moved up to fourth when Wilson lost two and a half minutes changing a puncture, Atkinson whacked a bridge in front of a television crew and Suzuki’s Per-Gunnar Andersson ground to a halt as the drama reached fever pitch at the Dead Sea. Wilson eventually reached service in fifth overall, just 8.6 seconds ahead of Argentina’s Federico Villagra. Al-Qassimi was a close seventh and Loeb set the fastest time
A repeat loop of three stages remained in what was becoming one of the most exciting WRC rallies for years. An upbeat Latvala emerged from service with a new gearbox, rear differential and rear suspension and set his sights on sixth place, as Hirvonen began the defence of his 7.7s overall lead over Sordo.
The stage surface in Kafrain was not as slippery the second time around but Sordo dropped another 13.1s to his rival. A flying Latvala made in-roads into Al-Qassimi’s seventh place with the fastest time, but spun in Wadi Shueib on his way to the fifth quickest time. Hirvonen kept sliding wide trying to get traction, but managed to extend his lead to 23.7s seconds heading into the final Jordan River special.
The contest was settled in the opening kilometres when Sordo spun and Hirvonen was able to cruise to a stunning win, although the Spaniard managed to continue to the finish to claim valuable championship points.
It was a weekend of mixed fortunes for Middle East drivers: Kuwait’s Salah Bin Eidan crashed out on the final Saturday stage, Qatar’s Mubarak Al-Hajri didn’t reach Sunday’s stages and Jordanians Faris Hijazi and Issa Abu Jamous left the road in SS19. But there were superb performances by the UAE’s Group N-winning Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi, Lebanon’s Nick Georgiou, Jordan’s Ameer Najjar and Mazan Tantash, with former rally winner Amjad Farrah and veteran Michel Saleh also running inside the top 30 for long periods.
2008 Jordan Rally – final positions at end of day three (unofficial):
1. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 07 4h 02m 47.9s
2. Dani Sordo (E)/Marc Marti (E) Citroën C4 WRC 4h 04m 03.6s
3. Chris Atkinson (AUS)/Stéphane Prevot (B) Subaru Impreza WRC 2006 4h 07m 47.4s
4. Henning Solberg (N)/Cato Menkerud (N) Ford Focus RS WRC 07 4h 10m 23.7s
5. Matthew Wilson (GB)/Scott Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS WRC07 4h 13m 29.6s
6. Federico Villagra (RA)/Jorge-Perez Companc (RA) Ford Focus RS WRC 07 4h 14m 10.1s
7. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 07 4h 15m 03.5s
8. Gigi Galli (I)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I) Ford Focus RS WRC 0 4h 15m 12.3s
9. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Ford Focus RS 4h 21m 53.6s
10. Sébastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (F) Citroën C4 WRC 4h 26m 26.0s
11. Sébastien Ogier (F)/Julien Ingrassia (F) Citroën C2 S1600 4h 29m 57.8s
FIA World Rally Championship - positions after round 5:
1. Mikko Hirvonen 35 pts
1. Sébastien Loeb 30 pts
3. Chris Atkinson 28 pts
4. Jari-Matti Latvala 18 pts
5. Dani Sordo 17 pts
6. Gigi Galli 12 pts
1. BP Ford Abu Dhabi 57 pts
2. Citroën Total 50 pts
3. Subaru 39 pts
4. Stobart VK M-Sport 29 pts
5. Munchi's Rally Team 14 pts
6. Suzuki 6 pts
For further media information:
Neil Perkins, 2008 Jordan Rally Media Office Manager, Main Media Centre, King Hussein Ben Talal Convention Centre, Dead Sea, Jordan, Tel: + 962 5 3560054 or Mobile: + 962 79 6920416, E-mail: email@example.com