WRC - SS17: Hirvonen wins first Ouninpohja stage
Citroen driver cuts team-mate Loeb’s lead to 7.2s starting final stage
Mikko Hirvonen has taken 2.2s out of Sebastien Loeb to narrow the world champion’s lead on Neste Oil Rally Finland to 7.2s starting the final stage of the FIA World Rally Championship qualifier.
Hirvonen, in a Citroen Total World Rally Team DS3 WRC, took 15m26.9s to complete the legendary 33.01-kilometre stage to keep alive the fight for victory.
Jari-Matti Latvala was 7.6s quicker than factory Ford team-mate Petter Solberg who admitted to saving his tyres for the event-closing Power Stage. Latvala said he flew too far over one jump and also briefly drove into a ditch in his Fiesta RS WRC.
Mads Ostberg has moved back ahead of Ott Tanak in the chase for fifth following his delay on stage 16, despite a soft set-up causing a lack of precision. Tanak, in a similar Fiesta, admitted he had to make several changes to his pace notes during the stage.
Matti Rantanen said he had a “really close call” during a big moment near the stage start, while close rival Jari Ketomaa said he struggled for grip in his similar Fiesta.
Martin Prokop, a former Junior world champion, said: “It was too much. I didn’t have a good rhythm and I landed [a jump] like never before. I landed very hard and I was worried about the car but afterwards it was crazy fast.”
M-Sport Fiesta pilot Evgeny Novikov was delayed slightly when he went the wrong way at a junction. The Russian reported the stage surface was extremely slippery running first on the road and was 38.1s slower than Chris Atkinson who was running one place behind him. Australian Atkinson spoke of a significant lack of grip in his Qatar World Rally Team Citroen. Thierry Neuville said he lost his confidence and slowed down due to a lack of accuracy with this pace notes at the start of the run.
Sebastian Lindholm, the 51-year-old Finn back in the WRC for the first time since 2007, took 16m53.1s to complete the stage. He said: “It’s so difficult because the speeds are so fast and the car is jumping everywhere. You hate this stage but when you finish this stage you are happy.”
Paulo Nobre adopted a cautious approach through the stage in his WRC Team MINI Portugal entry, which ultimately delayed team-mate Armindo Araujo, who was caught up dust clouds created by the Brazilian driver’s car. Finnish privateer Riku Tahko is reported to have crashed out in his MINI John Cooper Works WRC.
P-G Andersson has moved into the lead of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship after Craig Breen crashed out on a fast left-hand bend. Both Breen and co-driver Paul Nagle were uninjured.