Achieving the fastest time on the final stage of the Rally Sardinia provided some consolation to Mikko Hirvonen as the Finn had to be content with second place when the event ended yesterday.
The Abu Dhabi Ford driver finished 11.2 seconds behind Sebastien Loeb, the seven-time world champion, but his rapid pace on the 18th stage of the rally gave him three extra points, thanks to new rules brought in by the World Rally Championship (WRC) this season to encourage drivers to perform at the end of a rally, even if the final positions are already settled.
The result meant Hirvonen, who lost 50 seconds on Friday's first leg due to a puncture caused by running wide, gave away only five points to Loeb in the championship standings and now trails the Frenchman by seven points.
Hirvonen said: "Second was a strong finish and I'm delighted with the bonus points. I had a good rhythm throughout the stage. I lost 50 seconds after a mistake in the opening leg and if it hadn't been for that, I think I could have won this rally."
Jari Matti Latvala, Hirvonen's teammate, picked up two bonus points by being second quickest on the final stage. The Finn was classified 18th after a crash on the first day ruled him out of contention for a top-10 finish.
Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi had a hard time on the dusty roads and finished 12th, but was satisfied to make the finish.
"It was an incredibly tough rally," the Emirati said. "It's so easy to clip a rock and damage the car. Sometimes I was too fast and sometimes too cautious and it was a difficult job trying to find the right balance with the car."
The next round of the championship is in Argentina on May 26.