Mikko Hirvonen has been forced to retire from the opeing day of Wales Rally GB, following an accident on the seventh stage of the WRC finale.
The Finn had started the stage with a slender lead in the overall standings over title rival Sebastien Loeb. However, he lost nearly four minutes on stage with reported suspension and radiator damage which initially pushed him down to 13th overall.
It now appears that Hirvonen has stopped on the road section en route to the service park at Builth Wells – all but ending his chances of snapping Loeb's streak of world titles.
Hirvonen told wrc.com that he had spun on the greasy surface, hitting a bank with the rear of the car. Unfortunately, a tree stump went through the radiator and with the water drained from the engine the damage forced Hirvonen to stop on the 100km road section.
“It's over for sure,” Hirvonen is quoted as saying about his title chance. “I have to thank the team for a really good effort and all the help. Unfortunately we have to look to the future and see what we can do in the future.”
“It's devastating to go out in an incredible battle with Sebastien Loeb,” Ford Abu Dhabi team principal Malcolm Wilson told wrc.com. “We will try to fix the car but it does look like there's too much damage to the engine. I believe the damage is already done, but our main priority is to get him back here and out again tomorrow. It's a huge disappointment for the whole team after getting back into the championship fight again and then sadly losing it on the first day of the event.”