Hirvonen claims first win for Citroen

autosport.com

Sun, 01 Apr 15:50:24 2012

Mikko Hirvonen moved into the World Rally Championship lead as he claimed his first victory for the Citroen team in Portugal.

The Finn ended up dominating an extroardinarily difficult rally, on a weekend when all the other usual frontrunners made mistakes.

Hirvonen's team-mate Sebastien Loeb had crashed out on the opening night on Thursday, and Ford duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg then slid out of the lead on consecutive stage amid torrential rain on Friday.

That left Hirvonen to control the rest of the weekend. His final margin of victory was 1m51.8s over Adapta Ford's Mads Ostberg, as Russian Evgeny Novikov (M-Sport Ford) secured his maiden WRC podium in third. Both independent Ford drivers survived final day scares - Ostberg's car developing a misfire on Sunday morning, and Novikov driving most of the final loop with a broken throttle pedal.

Despite this issue, Novikov managed to hang on just ahead of Solberg - who surged back up the order under Rally 2 to take fourth, even though a power steering failure cost him more time on Saturday afternoon. Team-mate Latvala had a fuel pressure problem on leg three and lost 12 more minutes on top of his Friday crash delay, and had to settle for 14th place and two power stage bonus points.

Nasser Al-Attiyah recovered from a late puncture on his Qatar Citroen to win a close fight for fifth with Czech National Ford driver Martin Prokop, as both celebrated career-best WRC finishes.

Dennis Kuipers took seventh on his first appearance of 2012 in an M-Sport Ford, despite Sebastien Ogier's best efforts to catch him in the giant-killing Volkswagen-entered S2000 Skoda.

Thierry Neuville was in the top five for Citroen Junior until his car overheated on Friday morning. The Belgian recovered to ninth - although he must get back to service on a damaged tyre to secure the result after two punctures on the final loop.

Jari Ketomaa scored a point in 10th at the end of an issue packed weekend in the Autotek Ford, taking the place on the last stage when Peter van Merksteijn Jr's private Citroen broke a driveshaft.

None of the Minis made it into the top 10. Local hero Armindo Araujo's weekend went awry early when he crashed on Thursday night, and Prodrive's Patrik Sandell lost fourth place to damaged suspension on Saturday afternoon. Sandell's team-mate Dani Sordo took a number of stage wins as he flew under Rally 2 following Thursday evening electrical issues, although a later exhaust problem and punctures limited him to 12th at the finish. Sordo did at least get three points for winning the power stage.

 

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