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Saturday midday wrap: Hirvonen leads in Portugal

Stage wins for Solberg and Sordo as weather conditions improve


By www.wrc.com

31 March 2012 - 14:19
Saturday midday wrap: Hirvonen (...)

Mikko Hirvonen continues to lead Vodafone Rally de Portugal, round four of the FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia, with the treacherous weather conditions that blighted day two subsiding on Saturday morning’s opening loop.

While chunks of the rally route in the hills north of Faro remain coated in mud, drivers have reported some grip issues by running soft compound tyres on drying roads in the belief the stages would be wetter.

“It was slippery, but it is for everyone that’s why we’re not losing too much time,” said Hirvonen, whose advantage out front at the wheel of his Citroen DS3 WRC stands at 47.3s. “It was good though but if I need to use hard tyres [this afternoon] it’ll be impossible to drive, but if that’s what I’ve got to do then I have to do it.”

Mads Ostberg demoted Evgeny Novikov for second on Saturday’s first run but his efforts to catch Hirvonen for the lead suffered a blow on stage 13. “We gained quite a lot in the beginning of the stage but we have an engine problem and the car dropped onto three cylinders,” said the Adapta Fiesta pilot. “I had to use a lot of revs to stop it from happening but we struggled too much.”

Novikov, meanwhile, reported a misfire on the middle stage, which remained a nuisance on the last run.

Patrik Sandell completed Saturday’s opening three stages in fourth position in his MINI. The Sweden World Rally Team driver said: “I can push more but I don’t want to take stupid risks.”

A power loss issue has slowed Martin Prokop’s Fiesta throughout the morning although he holds a strong fifth position in his Czech Ford National Team Fiesta. Nasser Al-Attiyah is sixth for the Qatar World Rally Team with Dennis Kuipers climbing up to seventh, one place ahead of fellow Dutchman Peter van Merksteijn Jr.

Petter Solberg, who restarted this morning under Rally 2 rules following his exit on Friday, was fastest on stages 12 and 13 as he tries to battle back into contention in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. The Norwegian is now up to ninth overall.

“I’m so disappointed with what happened yesterday but I will do whatever I need to do to get the win,” said Solberg. “I feel so sorry for the team for what happened yesterday but the morning has been good, I’m happy.”

Dani Sordo was fastest on the first test in his MINI John Cooper Works WRC and was second quickest on stages 12 and 13. But his retirement on Thursday means he languishes in 13th position in the overall standings.

Daniel Oliveira, who is 14th overall, said he was stationary for more than 40 seconds after his Fiesta’s windows steamed up following a watersplash on stage 12.

Jari Ketomaa said the handling of his Autotek Fiesta was not to his liking and would be making adjustments to its set-up in service. Ott Tanak also reported a handling issue on his Fiesta, which began after he clouted a rock five kilometres into Saturday’s first test.

In the battle for Super 2000 World Rally Championship honours, Yazeed Al Rajhi is almost seven minutes clear of second-placed Maciej Oleksowicz, who reported a minor rear differential problem on his Fiesta.

Alastair Fisher has won the FIA WRC Academy, which concluded after stage 13.

Crews are now at the service park in Faro’s Algarve Stadium for a 30-minute halt. Stage 14, Almodovar 2, gets underway at 14:39hrs local time. Weather reports indicate rain could return this afternoon so teams must decide whether to continue using their limited supplies of soft compound rubber, which are designed for cold and damp conditions, or switch to the hard compound alternative.


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