Title rivals put dust spat behind them
"I was angry with Mikko but it’s not his fault"
World championship rivals Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb have played down their disagreement at the end of stage nine of Vodafone Rally de Portugal earlier today.
Loeb was furious at the completion of the run after being delayed in the dust clouds created by Hirvonen’s Ford Fiesta. The Finn had stopped to change a punctured front-right tyre approximately eight kilometres into the 25.26-kilometre test, and resumed a short distance in front of Loeb.
Such was his anger Loeb nudged the rear bumper of Hirvonen’s Fiesta with his Citroen’s front bumper at the stage-end stop line. However, the pair spoke to each other prior to the start of the next stage and settled their differences.
“I would be unhappy in that situation as well,” said Hirvonen. “The next stage he came and apologised to me about the whole thing and I said I was sorry but there was nothing I could do about it.”
Hirvonen continued: “For sure for everybody it looks like we protected Jari-Matti [Latvala’s lead] but I just wanted to get back in the car and then carry on flat-out, which was the right thing to do. I didn’t know how long my tyre change took but I didn’t see any dust or anything coming so I thought it was a fairly good change. Then we got back in the car and went flat-out.”
Loeb, who said his delay had “destroyed” his rally after he dropped almost 30 seconds off top spot, said: “I was angry with Mikko but it’s not his fault. He could imagine I was here but he could not know for sure. He cannot stop for nothing.”
World champion Loeb confirmed that his Citroen team had radioed Ford to ask for Hirvonen to move over on the stage and let him by.
“It was the choice of Ford not to let me go because I asked to my team on the radio that we are in the dust and we couldn’t see anything,” said Loeb. “They called to Ford but they say I have to stay behind.”
Ford team boss Malcolm Wilson confirmed a radio conversation had taken place, adding: “We explained Mikko that he’d had a puncture but was back up to full speed. They came back twice or three times because Loeb was understandably being anxious but I don’t feel in any way shape or form bad about what’s happened. We’ve spent time practicing [changing tyres] because we knew punctures would be an issue. At the end of the day it’s a storm in a teacup because Sebastien went to apologise to Mikko. He knows it was wrong to do what he did [at the end of the stage].”
Olivier Quesnel, Wilson’s counterpart at Citroen, said: “We are really frustrated and I am sorry for Sebastien and Daniel [Elena]. They lost 30 seconds but the rally is not finished for them.”
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