A perfect day for Hirvonen
"The car worked very well and we were able to control the rally"
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen extended their lead at the top of the overall standings after day three of the Rally de Portugal, in conditions that were somewhat less taxing than those seen yesterday.
With their closest challengers trailing by over a minute, the Finns are now ideally placed to claim their first win with the Citroën Total World Rally Team.
Rain fell for most of the night, but it stopped just before the start of day three of Rally de Portugal. Disputed on roads between Almodôvar and Loulé, the three stages that formed today’s loop were sufficiently sodden for all of the drivers to fit their cars with soft Michelin Latitude Cross tyres.
Despite the lack of rainfall in the last three months, the Algarve region’s gravel roads nonetheless managed to soak up the water quickly. So much so, in fact, that the drivers were surprised to find long dried-out sections from SS11 (Almodôvar 1) onwards. Already holding a clear lead at the top of the overall standings, Mikko adapted his pace in line with the split times of Novikov and Østberg. On each of the stages, the Finn managed to pick up a few extra seconds on his nearest rivals.
Holding a 47.3s-lead over Østberg on his return to the service park at the day’s half-way stage, the Citroën Total World Rally Team driver confirmed that he felt he was more in control of proceedings: “Compared with yesterday, it was a lot easier. The roads were still slippery, but the grip was pretty constant apart from the occasional mud patch that hadn’t dried up on some of the corners. The roads has dried so quickly that with the soft tyres, the car was moving around a lot, but this was the best choice overall for the morning.“
As the weather forecast indicated that there might be storms in the afternoon, Mikko Hirvonen headed off for the second running of the stages with four hard tyres and two softs as spares. The second loop followed pretty much the same pattern as the first, and the DS3 WRC no.2 crew ended the day having extended their lead to 1m 11.9s.
“Today was absolutely perfect,” confirmed Mikko. “The car worked very well and we were able to control the rally from the front as we planned. Despite adopting a pace that ensured we didn’t make any mistakes, we still managed to increase our lead. The main difficulty involved adapting our tyre choice to the weather conditions. We can say now that we made the right choices!”
Strongly placed to secure his first win with Citroën, Mikko will start the final day in a comfortable position: “It’s not time to relax just yet! There are still 115 kilometres of stages to run tomorrow. If the weather stays dry, I think it’ll be ok. But I have to stay alert, because anything can happen. For example, Jarmo’s radio cable was damaged on SS15. There was a crackling noise and I couldn’t hear all his pace notes. It didn’t matter in the end, but we have to remain completely focussed to give ourselves every chance of winning.”
“Mikko once again demonstrated his ability to drive an error-free rally,” concluded Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “His performance today was all about consistency, and that’s what enabled him to increase his lead a bit more. Despite the pressure he is under, he knows how to manage this kind of situation. The last day is no walk in the park, however, and the whole team is focussed on securing our third win of the season.”
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