FIA World Rally Championship

Hirvonen Emerges From Portugal Chaos With Rally Lead

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Mikko Hirvonen tackles a Super Special stage (Photo Credit: Citroen Racing Media)

Mikko Hirvonen tackles a Super Special stage (Photo Credit: Citroen Racing Media)

Mikko Hirvonen has so far won the war of attrition, the only works WRC car without the scars of battle tearing it to shreds. Ford were a victim of their own success, the late running order working against them, and making the stages so difficult for Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg that they crashed out within a stage of each other.

Only satellite Ford drivers Evgeny Novikov and Mads Ostberg were able to navigate the mire of Friday’s stages without major issues, and Patrik Sandell also capitalised on the madness by moving up to fourth, despite starting the day outside the Top 10.

The trouble kicked off right from the start, with SS5 claiming a large variety of drivers. The highest profile of all was rally leader Latvala, his Fiesta sliding off the road and getting stuck in a ditch. It was to be his last act of the day, unable to extricate his stricken Ford from the mire caused by the torrential rain. Following him off the road was fellow Finn and Ford driver Ott Tanak, Thierry Neuville, Martin Prokop, Armindo Araujo, Sebastien Ogier, plus SWRC rivals Hayden Paddon and Craig Breen.

First on the road had become the place to be. Dani Sordo was already out of contention after being knocked back on Thursday, but his early starting position meant he blitzed the opening loop and won all three stages, albeit elevating him to a mere 15th place by the end of the day. But even he was quick to point out how treacherous the conditions really were.

“It was really, really difficult conditions, more difficult than the other stages,” he said. “It was impossible to see the road.”

Petter Solberg compounded the blue oval’s misery by throwing his car off the road a stage after team-mate Latvala, leaving the way free for Hirvonen to capitalise. It wasn’t so easy for him though, with Novikov piling on the pressure and taking precious seconds out of his lead. The final morning stage was less chaotic than the previous two, the main mover being Prokop moving up to fifth overall with two second-fastest stage times.

There would be no afternoon dramas however. The flooding had been becoming progressively worse since Thursday, and rally organisers decided to cancel the second loop on safety grounds. However, with the weather set to continue in the same vain tomorrow, there may be yet more huge challenges facing the drivers.

Yazeed Al Rajhi is the surprise leader of the SWRC class, after both Hayden Paddon and Craig Breen went off in the chaotic opening stage and dropped several minutes apiece. The battle for second in class is one of the most closely faught on the entire overall leaderboard now, with Pedro Meireles 5.9 seconds up on Maciej Oleksowicz.

Day Two Classification

Pos No Driver   Time Diff
1. 2 M. HIRVONEN M 1:20:01.7 0.0 0.0
2. 6 E. NOVIKOV M 1:20:38.0 +36.3 +36.3
3. 10 M. ØSTBERG   1:20:43.5 +5.5 +41.8
4. 52 P. SANDELL   1:23:08.9 +2:25.4 +3:07.2
5. 21 M. PROKOP   1:23:27.5 +18.6 +3:25.8
6. 7 N. AL ATTIYAH M 1:23:48.6 +21.1 +3:46.9
7. 17 P. VAN MERKSTEIJN (JR)   1:23:52.5 +3.9 +3:50.8
8. 18 D. KUIPERS   1:24:42.8 +50.3 +4:41.1
9. 15 S. OGIER   1:25:46.8 +1:04.0 +5:45.1
10. 16 J. KETOMAA   1:25:54.0 +7.2
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Alasdair Lindsay is a Regular Contributor to TCF and can be found on twitter at @AlasdairLindsay
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