x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Hirvonen encouraged in title fight

Mikko Hirvonen is bullish on his chances of further reducing Sebastien Loeb's lead in the World Rally Championship at Rally Poland, which starts today.

The BP Abu Dhabi Ford team driver Mikko Hirvonen set the joint fastest time on yesterday's recce ahead of the start of today's Rally Poland beginning. The Finn is in second place in the championship.
The BP Abu Dhabi Ford team driver Mikko Hirvonen set the joint fastest time on yesterday's recce ahead of the start of today's Rally Poland beginning. The Finn is in second place in the championship.

Mikko Hirvonen is bullish on his chances of further reducing Sebastien Loeb's lead in the World Rally Championship at Rally Poland, which starts today. The Finnish driver's victory at the Acropolis Rally earlier this month saw him cut his French rival's advantage just to seven points, and the BP Abu Dhabi Ford driver is confident of another strong performance.

"After Greece, I'm back in the championship fight and the next two events, in Poland and Finland, are on fast gravel roads which should suit me," he said. The Polish rally is being held for the first time as a World Championship event and Hirvonen has been looking at DVDs of the stages to help him prepare for the seventh rally of the season. "They are medium width and soft in places so they may cut up during the second pass. There has been a lot of rain in that area recently and the forecast for the rally suggests showers, so the sandy surface could turn very muddy if that is the case," he said.

"I know that I make good pace notes for new stages and it's crucial to get them right to have a chance of winning," he said. Hirvonen demonstrated that he should be a competitive force in Poland after setting the joint fastest time, with Loeb, during yesterday's recce in Mikolajki. He set a time of 2min 13.5sec on the 3.40km gravel road course, which was exactly the same as that set by the Citroen of Loeb.

Hirvonen made only three passes of the route, setting his best time on the final run, and he said he was encouraged by what had gone on. "We had a good pre-event test last week and now we've managed to compare our times against everybody else," he said. "The set-up was still working, the car felt good and the times were okay. I'm happy with that," he said. Hirvonen's teammate, Jari-Matti Latvala, was third quickest in the recce, setting a time of 2-14.5.

BP Abu Dhabi Ford have won the last two events of the World Rally Championship, with Latvala having won superbly in Sardinia last month. The Emirati driver Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi, who achieved the best result of his career with sixth place in Greece, is not taking part in the Polish event. @Email:gcaygill@thenational.ae