x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Hirvonen is in dreamland

Mikko Hirvonen, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver, finally fulfilled a childhood dream yesterday as he won Rally Finland to extend his lead at the top of the World Rally Championship.

Mikko Hirvonen, right, is joined by Ford colleagues to celebrate their victory.
Mikko Hirvonen, right, is joined by Ford colleagues to celebrate their victory.

JYVASKYLA // Mikko Hirvonen, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver, finally fulfilled a childhood dream yesterday as he won Rally Finland to extend his lead at the top of the World Rally Championship. It was the culmination of three days of exquisite driving by the Finn, who learned to drive as a youngster on the gravel tracks surrounding this student town in the Finnish countryside.

"It just seems unbelievable that I have won my home rally," he said. "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. "I've been watching this rally since I was a kid, and now I've won it myself it's an absolutely fantastic feeling." The victory puts Hirvonen three points clear of title rival Sebastien Loeb, who finished second in his Citroen. Jari-Matta Latvala, Hirvonen's teammate at Ford, finished third. Loeb suffered a puncture after hitting a pothole on Saturday, a moment he identified as pivotal in handing the win to Hirvonen.

"I lost too much time and it was not possible to come back - the gap was too much," he said. "OK, we are here, we lost two points in the championship - but it's better than losing 10 like we did on the last couple of events. It will be an interesting end to the championship I think." Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi, the only Emirati to win WRC points, ended up ninth in his third attempt at this rally to leave Finland pointless.

Despite failing to add to his tally, the Ford driver was content with the weekend. "To get in the top 10 on what is a very specialist rally was very pleasing and is a credit to us," he said. @Email:gcaygill@thenational.ae Full report and reaction, s7