x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Hirvonen extends lead with win in Finland

Mikko Hirvonen took his first win on home soil at the Rally of Finland to extend his World Rally Championship lead over Sebastien Loeb to three points.

Mikko Hirvonen took his first win on home soil at the Rally of Finland to extend his World Rally Championship lead over Sebastien Loeb to three points. Hirvonen and Citroen driver Loeb had looked set for a titanic battle for victory when they were virtually inseparable during Friday's stages, but a puncture for Loeb yesterday morning ensured the Blue Oval driver had the cushion to pace himself to the finish in his hometown of Jyvaskyla today. The Finn, who celebrated his 29th birthday on Friday, took no risks on today's four stages, having won six of Saturday's nine stages, as he eventually led Loeb home by 25.1 seconds for his third straight win. Hirvonen was delighted to have finally won at home and to have moved a step closer to ending Loeb's dominance of the sport, the result also moved Ford to within 14 points of Citroen in the manufacturers' championship. "It's an absolutely great feeling," said Hirvonen. "It went exactly like we planned. It was a very tight fight against Sebastien. We were pulling away slowly, but when he had the puncture we could take it a bit easier." Loeb, who held a 20-point lead in the title race just four rounds ago, was not too despondent about being defeated by his rival and was glad to return to the podium after crashing on both of the last two rallies in Greece and Poland. He said: "It was a good battle, but he was really good, really fast. "It was looking good for him and then when I had my puncture it was over, I lost too much time and it was impossible to come back. "But it's OK, we're here. We only lost two points in the championship, not 10 like we did in the last two rallies." Jari-Matti Latvala, team mate to Hirvonen in the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team, took a solid third, despite struggling with illness on Saturday, to banish the memory of his last stage crash in Poland, while Dani Sordo claimed fourth for Citroen. British Championship regular Matti Rantanen took a magnificent fifth place in his Ford at his home event ahead of the Junior Citroen of Sebastien Ogier. Jari Ketomaa was next up in seventh with Britain's Matthew Wilson claiming the final point in eighth. The Ferrari Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen failed to finish after rolling his car yesterday. * PA Sport