BRENTWOOD, England - Mikko Hirvonen and Elfyn Evans may be poles apart in terms of Rally Sweden experience, but both M-Sport World Rally Team drivers put in a solid performance at the FIA World Rally Championship’s only snow event of the year. Battling for the podium positions, Hirvonen ultimately had to settle for fourth. Unfortunately for Evans, an untimely off on the final stage cost him what could have been a points-paying ninth place.
Having been in the fight for the top positions, Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen rejuvenated
their relationship with the Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Able to battle with the leaders, the Finn has
established a solid base on which to build as the season ensues.
Opting to be safe rather than sorry through the final speed tests, Hirvonen kept well clear of the
snow banks which threatened to snare anyone who ventured even slightly off line. Keeping his head,the Finn was not going to be distracted from his objective of finishing the event – securing a strong result and continuing to build momentum for the season ahead.
Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt came tantalisingly close to achieving their aim of making it through all 24 stages unscathed. Having never contested a full-snow rally with Michelin’s studded tyres, the Welshman made the most of his debut – learning the rally and developing his skills as he went.
Building knowledge and confidence with each stage, Evans’ focussed on seconds per kilometre as opposed to an overall result and it was encouraging to see that his pace improved throughout the weekend – showcasing his speed with the occasional split to challenge the front-runners.
Regrettably, his hard work was to go unrewarded on the final speed test. Sliding wide in the
treacherous conditions, his Fiesta RS WRC hit one of the predatory snow banks. With damage to the radiator there was no hope of making it back to service and the Welshman was forced to make an untimely retirement.
Regardless of the outcome, Evans has secured a wealth of experience in what were far from ideal Rally Sweden conditions – a fact which sets him up nicely for another new challenge when he crosses the Atlantic for Rally Mexico in three weeks’ time.
Mikko Hirvonen said: “It’s been a tough rally, but I think that we did a good job in the end. After the first split, I backed off completely. We had so many moments in those first five kilometres and I understood straight away that if I wanted to fight at the top I would risk not finishing at all, and that wasn’t something I was willing to do this weekend.
“We’re not quite back up to the pace that I was hoping for, but it was not too bad. Some sections
were really good so I think that gives us a good base to build on and hopefully when we get back to gravel we can be even faster.”
Elfyn Evans said: “We were achieving what we wanted from the event – improving the pace and on course for what would have been a good result for us – so it is really disappointing that it had to finish the way that it did.
“We were going into a corner that tightened, but unfortunately I didn’t have that marked in the notes. It wasn’t a very high-speed incident by all means, but the back end stepped out and after that there wasn’t a lot we could do to save it. We went off the road and damaged the radiator.
“It is extremely disappointing to end the event like this, but at least we got through the majority of the stages. It was a good event in terms of gaining experience, so now we just need to take that forward and move onto the next one.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “It is great to see Mikko [Hirvonen] getting a solid result after the disappointment of Monte-Carlo. It was also good to see his pace getting back to what we are used to seeing from him and the extra point in the Power Stage shows that he still has it in him. He’s got a strong platform to build on now as we head into the gravel events.
“It was a real shame to see Elfyn [Evans] stopped on the final stage. He got caught out on a really fast, tricky section. He may not have finished the rally, but I am pleased that he has completed the majority of the distance. It’s what he needed to do to get the experience for the future and it is all part of his development. It is just a shame that we lost some valuable points.”
Elsewhere, Ott Tänak put in a sensational performance on his return to the FIA World Rally Championship. Having last contested the snow-covered stages of Rally Sweden in 2012, the Estonian finished the event in fifth place having challenged the front runner through the early phases and claimed a stage win through the second pass of Kirkenær (SS5).
Also making a return to the championship following a year’s hiatus, Henning Solberg was back to his best. Entertaining the crowds throughout the weekend, the Norwegian secured an impressive stage win through SS11 to finish the event in a well-deserved seventh place.
Pontus Tidemand finished what is only his second outing in the Fiesta RS WRC in eighth place. The young Swede struggled to find the optimum set-up for the challenging conditions. But growing in confidence, the youngster was happy with the experience gained and did Sweden proud as the only home driver to take to the wheel of a world rally car.
There was another clean sweep of the podium for Ford Fiestas in the WRC 2 category in Sweden. M-Sport Fiestas dominated the FIA World Rally Championship’s premier support series with a range of cars occupying the top-six positions.
The close fought battle went down to the wire, with Karl Kruuda stealing victory behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta S2000 by a slender 2.3 seconds on the final stage.
Jari Ketoma’s Ford Fiesta R5 finished second with local-boy Fredrik Åhlin securing the third step of the podium in a similar Fiesta R5. Having led much of the event at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RRC, Yazeed Al Rajhi had to settle for fourth with the Fiesta R5s of Yurri Protasov and Lorenzo Bertelli in fifth and sixth places respectively.
Rally Sweden result:
1) J-M.Latvala VW Polo
2) A.Mikkelsen VW Polo
3) M.Østberg Citroen DS3
4) M.Hirvonen Ford Fiesta RS WRC
5) O.Tänak Ford Fiesta RS WRC
6) S.Ogier VW Polo
7) H.Solberg Ford Fiesta RS WRC
8) P.Tidemand Ford Fiesta RS WRC
9) C.Breen Ford Fiesta RS WRC
10) K.Meeke Citroen DS3