x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Hirvonen stays on track

The Finn is on course for another win and teammate Latvala sits second as BP Ford Abu Dhabi aim for their third one-two in a row.

Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen have a 12 second lead over teammate Jari-Matti Latvala going into the final five stages.
Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen have a 12 second lead over teammate Jari-Matti Latvala going into the final five stages.

Mikko Hirvonen remains on track to take the lead in the World Rally Championship, but he was forced to work hard to preserve his lead in Rally Poland. The Finnish driver leads by 12 seconds going in today's final five stages of the 18-stage event in his BP Abu Dhabi Ford car as he targets a second successive win.

The 10 points for victory would put him three points clear in the title race, leapfrogging the world champion Sebastien Loeb, who crashed out of contention on Friday's first day in his Citroen to rule himself out of the points scoring places. He acknowledged that the chance to take the lead in the points race was weighing on his mind as he tackled the rest of the rally. He said: "I want 10 points from here and after Loeb's accident I must think about the championship now. We must take full advantage of this situation."

Hirvonen had started the day with a narrow 8.9secs lead over his teammate and compatriot Jari-Matti Latvala on the tough gravel course. But Latvala had vowed not to push Hirvonen for the victory, knowing that he has little chance of the drivers' championship, and realising the importance of a third successive one-two to his team's chances of catching Citroen in the constructors' standings. Hirvonen's dangerman was always going to the second Citroen of Dani Sordo, who was third overnight, and the Spaniard made big in-roads into the leader's advantage initially, taking 17.5 seconds out of him on the first three stages yesterday, to cut the gap to 19.5 seconds.

But Hirvonen hit back and showed his determination by setting the fastest stage times on both stages 11 and 12 to give himself some breathing space at the top. He was quicker again on the final stage of the day, to give himself a 12 second lead over Latvala, but probably more importantly a sizeable 38.5 second advantage over Sordo Fourth place is the Citroen Junior driver Sebastien Ogier, who is 1min 54.4secs adrift in fourth.

Fifth place is the privateer Petter Solberg, ahead of the Stobart Ford of Henning Solberg. gcaygill@thenational.ae