BP-Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen last night claimed a commanding victory in Rally Poland, the eighth round of the 12-event World Rally Championship. In securing his second and the team's third consecutive win, Hirvonen's triumph sees him leapfrog Citroen's five-time world champion Sebastien Loeb at the top of the drivers' standings by a single point and ensures the manufacturers' and drivers' title races remain evenly poised. Loeb crashed out of contention on day two on Friday. "This is the best rally of the season and it's the first time I have won two consecutive rallies in my career," said the 28-year-old Hirvonen. "After Loeb's mistake I thought I might have an easy drive but it wasn't to be. It's a fantastic feeling to win after such a great fight." The final day's action started with Loeb's teammate Dani Sordo failing to read the script. The Spaniard slid off in the first of the five stages, allowing Abu Dhabi's Finnish duo an apparently clean run to the Mikolajki finish. However, with Hirvonen coasting to victory in the final 2.5km super special stage, Jari-Matti Latvala was determined to play his part in the drama. The 23-year old speedster, who had clinched 18 points from the previous two rallies, dampened the BP Ford's parade when he inexplicably crashed out on the spectator-friendly run, taking the team's hopes of a third consecutive one-two finish with him. "I can't believe what I'm seeing," said a dumbfounded Hirvonen as he watched his teammate trying to untangle his car from the barriers. "It's unbelievable." Latvala's smash into a metal barrier broke his car's left-hand front suspension and steering. A frantic effort by driver and co-driver to get the car free ensued before both suffered the ignominy of pushing the battered Ford along the crowd-lined track. "I went too close to the barrier, which was full of sand," said Latvala. "I'm so sorry to everyone in the team. I wasn't going too fast, I just turned into the corner too early." Latvala's retirement not only promoted Sordo to second, it also dovetailed earlier events in Citroen's favour. South Africa's Conrad Rautenbach, following team orders, pulled up at the end of stage 17 to let Loeb pass him for eighth place. Loeb jumped another place and gained two points in his salvaged car after Latvala's late collision. "I will not say it's a good result but earlier on I didn't expect to take even one manufacturers' point here," said Loeb. "The points are very important for me. We don't have too many and maybe one will be very important at the end of the season. But it was again a rally to forget for me." firstname.lastname@example.org
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