Mikko ig­nites rally ti­tle chase

A Loeb mis­take gives Ford a chance in the WRC, writes CRAIG DUFF

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MIKKO Hir­vo­nen has reignited the World Rally Cham­pi­onship ti­tle chase with a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive victory.

Repco Rally Aus­tralia of­fi­cials couldn’t be hap­pier. Last week­end’s Rally Poland re­sult made sure there will be lit­tle be­tween Hir­vo­nen and de­fend­ing cham­pion Se­bastien Loeb when the cars ar­rive Down Un­der next month.

Loeb de­stroyed his front sus­pen­sion and steer­ing on a stump buried un­der sand in Poland and was forced out on the first day, but still man­aged to steer his Citroen to sev­enth over­all.

Hir­vo­nen holds a one-point lead in the se­ries and, more im­por­tantly, has gained a psy­cho­log­i­cal edge on his ri­val.

‘‘It’s the first time in my ca­reer that I’ve won two ral­lies in a row, so it feels fan­tas­tic,’’ Hir­vo­nen says.

‘‘Now I want to win three in a row by winning my rally, in Fin­land (on July 31).

‘‘Af­ter ev­ery­thing that hap­pened at the start of the sea­son (when Loeb won the first five), I never thought I’d get to Fin­land at the top of the cham­pi­onship.’’

Hir­vo­nen’s team­mate Jari-Matti Lat­vala was on course to give Ford a 1-2 fin­ish, only to re­tire with the fin­ish in sight af­ter hit­ting a bar­rel and break­ing the car’s steer­ing in the rally’s host town of Miko­la­jki.

‘‘It was my mis­take,’’ a dis­traught Lat­vala ad­mit­ted.

‘‘I wasn’t driv­ing too quickly but I turned into the bend too early and clipped an oil bar­rel that was full of sand. The im­pact broke the steer­ing. I couldn’t turn into the next bend, and hit the bar­rier on the op­po­site side of the road.

‘‘I’ve let down the team and dam­aged Ford’s dream of winning the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ti­tle this year.’’

Rally Fin­land is at the end of the month and the WRC troupe then shifts its at­ten­tion to Repco Rally Aus­tralia on Septem­ber 3-6 in north­ern NSW.

Loeb is the most suc­cess­ful driver in world rally his­tory, with 52 wins, and the five-time cham­pion will have a huge fol­low­ing when the WRC cars re­turn to Aus­tralia for the first time since 2006.

Face off: Eng­land’s Matthew Wil­son in a Ford Fo­cus (left) and Spain’s Dani Sordo in a Citroen C4 on the last spe­cial stage in Miko­la­jki.

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