x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Pressure on Hirvonen to close the points gap

Time is beginning to run out for the BP-Ford Abu Dhabi driver Mikko Hirvonen to catch world championship leader Sebastien Loeb in the standings, but the Finn says his only concern at this weekend's Rally of Spain is to get a strong points finish.

Mikko Hirvonen needs a high finish at this weekend's Rally of Spain.
Mikko Hirvonen needs a high finish at this weekend's Rally of Spain.

Time is beginning to run out for the BP-Ford Abu Dhabi driver Mikko Hirvonen to catch world championship leader Sebastien Loeb in the standings, but the Finn says his only concern at this weekend's Rally of Spain is to get a strong points finish. Loeb leads Hirvonen by eight points ahead of the start of the tarmac event on tonight, which is the first of two back-to-back rallies with the second tacking place in France next weekend.

He admits that victories are still not vital yet, but does acknowledge he has to score well and finish the events high up the order to keep the pressure on his German rival in the Citroen team with only four rallies left of the season. "I don't have much to lose but I really need to score well," he told the World Rally website. "I have to go for win, but then again if I have one zero now then it is definitely over, so I can't allow that to happen either.

"It's going to be very difficult, but if I can be second in both rallies then the game is still on. I'd be pleased with that - that would keep good pressure on him [Loeb]." Rallies of Spain have been dominated by the Citroen team in recent years and Ford have brought in the Belgian driver Francois Duval, who is a tarmac specialist, in an attempt to help boost their constructors championship challenge - which they currently trail their French rivals by 20 points.

Duval said: "This isn't my favourite asphalt rally because the roads are fast and wide and I prefer stages that are narrow and tight. But that doesn't alter my plan which is to take a podium finish. If I can match the pace of [Citroen's] Dani Sordo then I should be around the top three." gcaygill@thenational.ae