x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Hirvonen drives in a home run

A dream came true for Mikko Hirvonen yesterday when he won the Rally Finland for the first time, extending his lead in the World Championship in the process.

Mikko Hirvonen's Ford leaves the ground yesterday as the Finnish driver speeds to his first victory in the Rally Finland to secure a three-point lead in the drivers' championship.
Mikko Hirvonen's Ford leaves the ground yesterday as the Finnish driver speeds to his first victory in the Rally Finland to secure a three-point lead in the drivers' championship.

JYVASKYLA, FINLAND // A dream came true for Mikko Hirvonen yesterday when he won the Rally Finland for the first time, extending his lead in the World Championship in the process. The Finn finished 25.1secs ahead of title rival Sebastien Loeb, to the delight of thousands of home fans who had come to cheer on their local hero.

The BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver had finished second for the previous two years, but finally went one better to joyfully claim his home rally. "It has been a good rally and I feel absolutely fantastic," Hirvonen said. "It is just seems unbelievable that I have won my home rally. It went really well and I always felt in control and we never had any moments on any of the stages, so it is a terrific result for us."

Hirvonen had taken a 32 second lead over Loeb into the final four stages yesterday of the 23-stage event, and the Finn was content to just pace himself to victory. Loeb took 6.9secs out of him on the final leg in his Citroen, but it was never going to be enough to stop Hirvonen from claiming his third successive victory and moving three points ahead in the championship. Loeb was philosophical in defeat and said: "I am not too disappointed. It was a very good fight and we pushed very hard, but Mikko was just too quick and it was better to think of the championship and make sure we got eight points."

The star of the last day was Jari-Matta Latvala, who secured his first podium in his home rally as he comfortably held on to third place. The BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver was fastest on three of the final four stages and he was delighted with his result. "I am very pleased as it has not been easy due to feeling sick on the Saturday and coming here after Poland [where he crashed out of second on the final stage], so to come here and get my best result here is really good for me."

Latvala finished 49.9secs behind Loeb, but comfortably held off the challenge of the second Citroen Dani Sordo for third spot, extending his overnight lead of 10seconds by another six seconds. It was also a satisfactory day for Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi, who achieved his best result in Finland with ninth place in his BP Ford Abu Dhabi car. The Emirati said: "To get in the top 10 on what is a very specialist rally was very pleasing and is a credit to us."

Behind the front four, the Finnish driver Matti Rantanen brought home his Ford in fifth, finishing just three tenths of a second ahead of the Frenchman Sebastien Ogier. Seventh went to Jari Ketomaa, while the final points placings were completed by Matthew Wilson's Ford Stobart car. Meanwhile, Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen's debut in the World Rally Championship had come to an abrupt end late on Saturday when he rolled his Fiat.

The Ferrari man, who had been running in 15th, said of the accident: "I thought we were going to go wide but then, unfortunately, there were a lot of rocks and when I hit them the car went over. "I thought we wouldn't finish the rally because we had too many problems with the engine. But it was good fun and nobody got hurt. It happens - it's part of rallying." The next round of the World Rally Championship is in Australia between September 4-6.

gcaygill@thenational.ae