Mikko ignites rally title chase
A Loeb mistake gives Ford a chance in the WRC, writes CRAIG DUFF
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.