After winning the first five rallies of the season, world champion Sebastien Loeb looked as if he would win the title for a sixth successive time at a canter in his Citroen. But a strong riposte from Mikko Hirvonen and his BP Ford Abu Dhabi team have thrown the championship race wide open. The Finn took full advantage of Loeb's uncharacteristic crash on Saturday that had forced his retirement to claim his first win of the season in the Acropolis Rally in Greece yesterday.
As well as the joy of claiming his eighth rally victory, Hirvonen is now only seven points adrift of Loeb in the standings and back in the hunt for a maiden title. He led through Saturday's stages and all of yesterday's closing leg as he navigated the tough Greek terrain to win by 1min 12.9secs from the Citroen Junior driver Sebastien Ogier. "It's been a clever drive with no mistakes and no punctures," said Hirvonen. "We thought before this event that if you get through without any problems you'll be okay. It's great for the team. Now we're back in the game again - the timing couldn't have been better."
Hirvonen's teammate, Jari-Matti Latvala, bounced back to finish third and the Finn is looking for further improvements. "It's my second podium in a row, so that's a positive too. The next rounds in Poland and Finland are important for me and the team - I want to do better there." The Argentine driver Federico Villagra was fourth in his Ford, while Zimbabwe's Conrad Rautenbach was fifth in his Citroen, with Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi taking his highest World Rally Championship finish in sixth place in his BP Ford Abu Dhabi car.