Mikko Hirvonen capitalised on Friday’s carnage to win Rally Portugal, with team-mate Sebastien Loeb retiring early and Ford rival Jari-Matti Latvala failing to finish in the points.
Since the torrential rain came two days ago, Hirvonen had taken an extremely cautious approach to the stages, and it paid dividends, securing victory with a gap of almost two minutes to Mads Ostberg.
While Hirvonen drove cautiously through the final day’s stages, there was still more scores to be settled further down the order. Petter Solberg had already climbed up from outside the top 10 to 5th after the second day chaos, and switftly took fourth place from Nasser Al-Attiyah on the day’s opening stage. He was a long way behind the other podium placed Fords of Ostberg and Evgeny Novikov, but Stage 16 almost brought an unexpected break for the Norwegian. Ostberg’s Fiesta went into road mode, dropping his car to three cylinders and restricting his speed
The problem continued on the following stage, but Ostberg struggled on and managed to retain second place, with Novikov behind taking a conservative approach, desperate to secure the first podium of his WRC career. Solberg had gone fastest again, but was gaining nowhere near enough time to make serious inroads on Ostberg.
Novikov’s calm approach almost came to nothing though, a broken throttle cable threatening to end his rally after the afternoon loop’s first stage. He was back on the road again with a quick patch up fix, and even though he lost over a minute and a half to the chasing Solberg on the penultimate stage, the improvised repairs did enough to secure the Russian’s first podium finish.
Al-Attiyah was still lacking pace for the remainder of the day after being passed by Solberg, and a puncture on the penultimate stage let Martin Prokop sneak up into fifth place. During the morning loop, the S2000 spec Skoda of Sebastien Ogier had surprisingly been catching Dennis Kuipers‘ WRC spec Fiesta, but the underpowered Fabia could not keep up during the final three stages, and Kuipers and Ogier retained their 7th and 8th places respectively.
Despite flying off the road during Stage 19, Thierry Neuville had set a handful of Top 5 stage times during the day, promoting him to ninth place, his first points in the WRC. Peter van Merksteijn Jr looked set to also take points for most of the rally in a sister Citroen DS3, but near the end Jari Ketomaa was able to catch and pass the Dutchman for 10th place.
Dani Sordo had looked fast all weekend, but electrical problems on the opening day had ruined his rally. He was still in contention for the final points position, but the penultimate stage brought more bad luck not just for him, but the entire Mini camp. Sordo hit a bank and spun, which caused a puncture that required changing mid-stage. Portuguese native Armindo Araujo also picked up a puncture, and Patrik Sandell, who retired from fourth position the previous day, retired once again after an accident.
Latvala failed to make the same progress as Solberg back up the leaderboard due to a fuel pressure problem yesterday, but there was a small consolation for the Finn, coming second in the powerstage to pick up two bonus points. Sordo made up for missing out on 10th by winning the stage and taking three points instead of just one, and Ott Tanak, another driver plauged with problems all weekend, picked up the final bonus point.
Hayden Paddon took the SWRC spoils despite retiring on the chaotic second day and returning via Rally2 regulations, after dominant leader Yazeed Al Rahji broke the suspension on his Ford Fiesta in the second stage of the day, forcing him to retire on the spot. Maciej Oleksowicz had started the day in front of Paddon, but after losing a whole minute on the opening stage to the New Zealander, he drove with caution all the way to the finish, and local driver Pedro Meireles took the final podium place as the last finisher in class.
|5.||7||N. AL ATTIYAH||M||4:27:21.9||+4:10.2||+7:57.6|
|RET||36||Y. AL RAJHI||S||RET||–||–|