Hirvonen still in the fight in Portugal

The Finns hold a strong second place

By Franck Drui

5 April 2014 - 23:41
Hirvonen still in the fight in Portugal

M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are still in the fight at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal. Despite losing their lead to a resurgent Sebastien Ogier, the Finns hold a strong second place going into tomorrow’s final day.

Consistency was the name of the game, and Hirvonen set the second fastest time on all but one of the day’s six speed tests. Determined to the last, the Finn pushed hard throughout the day on what were well-used soft compound tyres. Despite the disadvantage, Michelin’s rubber held up to the challenge, and the popular Finn edged out close to a 50 second advantage over third-placed man Mads Østberg.

With just 38.1 seconds separating Hirvonen from the top-step of the podium, the Finn will be ready to pounce should any drama arise. With 43.87 kilometres of tricky stages left to run, there remains all to play for and the M-Sport man will be keen to bring his Ford Fiesta RS WRC home for what looks set to be a season-best result.

Returning under Rally 2 regulations following a mistake on yesterday’s first pass of Almodôvar (SS4), Elfyn Evans was straight back on the pace. The Welshman praised his mechanics for putting in an ‘all-nighter’ to provide him with a perfect Fiesta RS WRC for the penultimate day of rallying. Working until four in the morning, M-Sport’s expert team did a fantastic job to ensure that the youngster could continue his development in the WRC’s highest league.

The team’s faith was rewarded, and even despite being disadvantaged as the first car on the road, Evans continued to reduce the gap to the leaders. Consistently less than half a second per kilometre adrift of the top drivers, he also posted the fourth fastest time through the second pass of Santana de Serra (SS12).

The youngster’s pace has really progressed this weekend and he and co-driver Daniel Barritt will be looking for more of the same through tomorrow’s final stages.

Mikko Hirvonen (2nd) said:

“I used all my soft tyres yesterday so we had to go with used tyres today. It was still the right choice and we made up a lot of time on Mads [Østberg], but Sebastien [Ogier] just ran off into the distance and there was nothing we could do to catch him.

“Even if we give it all that we’ve got tomorrow, we’re not going to catch Sebastien on pace alone. I just hope that we can show the same good pace that we had today – secure this second place and maybe steal a few points from the Power Stage too.”

Elfyn Evans (27th) said:

“We’ve really enjoyed today and we’re really grateful to the mechanics who worked through the night to give us a perfect car. After the mess we left it in yesterday, I really wasn’t expecting it to be perfect so they did a fantastic job.

“We’ve learnt a lot today. There were some very different conditions with different tyres, so it’s been a great day from a learning perspective. I’m also pleased with the pace we were able to set. After an accident you’re always a little weary in the mornings, but I’m happy with the progress we’ve made and it’s another step in the right direction.”

Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:

“After we lost Ott [Tänak], it was important that Mikko [Hirvonen] consolidated his second place and he has certainly done that today. We were able to take advantage of the tyres yesterday, but unfortunately that put us at a bit of a disadvantage today. Still, Mikko did a great job and has managed to put a big gap between himself and Mads [Østberg, in third].

“We’ll certainly look to keep the pressure on tomorrow, but if we come away with this second place, it will still be a fantastic result for the team and Mikko’s best of the year – a great platform to build on at future events.

“I was also really pleased with Elfyn’s [Evans] pace today. We decided that he would continue at the same speed as yesterday as we didn’t want him to suffer as a result of the accident. The mechanics did a brilliant job to get the car fixed last night, and Elfyn did them proud with some very encouraging progress. We’ll be looking for him to continue in the same vein tomorrow.”


Ott Tänak put in a sensational performance through the first half of the event – challenging for the lead in an epic battle with fellow M-Sport driver Mikko Hirvonen and reigning world champion Sebastien Ogier. Unfortunately, the Estonian became another victim of the rally’s unforgiving speed tests on SS10.

Having to give up what would have been a podium position, the youngster clipped a bank which forced his Ford Fiesta RS WRC into a high-speed roll. With too much damage to the rollcage, Tänak will unfortunately not restart tomorrow.

Piloting a similar Fiesta RS WRC, Henning Solberg sits in fifth place overall. As always, the charismatic Norwegian put maximum effort into the technically challenging stages. Having his wits about him, Solberg is set for a top-five result as the rally resumes tomorrow.

In the WRC 2 category, the Ford Fiesta continued to dominate with an all M-Sport top-ten at the end of Day 3. Being run by the M-Sport team, Pontus Tidemand – who is taking to the wheel of the Ford Fiesta R5 for the first time this weekend – maintained his third place behind Nasser Al-Attiyah’s Ford Fiesta RRC and Jari Ketomaa in a similar Fiesta R5. Karl Kruuda had a good day behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta S2000, and now lies just 4.4 seconds adrift of the young Swede in fourth place overall.

Henning Solberg (5th) said:

“We were struggling a bit in the mud because we took the hard tyres, then on the last stage [SS13] there was something not quite right with the handbrake. But still I am very satisfied with what we have done today and we will still be flat-out until the end!”

Pontus Tidemand (3rd in WRC 2) said:

“I’ve really enjoyed today and the team have done a really good job with the car. It’s all feeling really comfortable and tomorrow we’ll just continue to keep focussed on our own rally and our own progress. Karl [Kruuda] isn’t too far behind now, so we might have to keep an eye on him and see what we can do tomorrow.”

Ott Tänak (DNF) said:

“It was in quite a tricky place – a section with lots of fast corners and crests leading up to a slower bend. We were a bit too late and couldn’t kill the speed. We hit the bank, and the car rolled about three or four times.

“It’s a big disappointment for me because until then everything was going really well. I was really happy with our performance and the speed that we were consistently able to set. We need to remember that my partnership with Raigo [Molder] is still very new, but we need to learn.”

M-Sport Managing Director, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:

“It was a real shame that we lost Ott [Tanak] today, he was doing a fantastic job and was consistently on the pace of the front runners. Unfortunately, this is a very technical and challenging rally, and he became one of many to be caught out on the stages.

“In the WRC 2 category we have also seen another very strong day. To see the [Ford] Fiesta RRC, R5 and S2000 all performing at the top of the category only goes to show what a competitive product range we have been able to put together with the Ford Motor Company.”



Motorsport news