LISBON, Portugal - M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen were back on form at this weekend’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal. Fighting for the lead, the pairing finished in a strong second place – their best performance of the season to date.
Straight on the pace, Hirvonen took an early lead with an inspired tyre choice through the first full day of competition. Despite falling victim to a revived Sebastien Ogier, the Finn looked at one behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Finding himself outside of the top-three on only four of the 15 speed tests, the Finn produced a highly competitive and consistent performance.
Tyre choice was a tricky call for the final day. Having selected the prime option for each of the earlier legs, Hirvonen was at a disadvantage for the final loop with just a selection of well-worn soft compounds in his arsenal. Opting for a configuration of worn-soft and fresh-hard tyres, Michelin’s resilient rubber held up to the challenge and the Finn was even able to post a second fastest time through S. Brás de Alportel (SS15).
Growing in confidence with each new kilometre, the M-Sport driver commented on how natural he felt behind the wheel of his reacquainted charge. Able to fight risk-free at the head of the field, this weekend’s result provides the perfect platform for a resurgent Hirvonen to make his mark on the championship.
“I’m really happy with this result,” said Hirvonen. “ We came here wanting a good, clean rally and that is what we have done. The car has been absolutely perfect – and really competitive – all weekend so a big thanks to the boys for the top job they’ve done.
“We knew that we had the pace, it was just a case of bringing everything together and I think that we did that this weekend. We’ll keep developing and learning, so hopefully we can fight even harder in the coming rallies. We’ve been another step closer this weekend, and it’s really good for the whole team. I’m sure this result will boost everyone and that we can continue to challenge at the head of the field.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to see Mikko [Hirvonen] fighting for wins again. We all knew that he had the speed and the determination to do it and to see it all coming together now is fantastic. He had the perfect strategy for the opening phases – taking an early lead – and then controlled it brilliantly to bring home a season-best second place.
Speaking of comebacks, Elfyn Evans came back fighting after a disappointing retirement on Friday’s opening leg. Rather than holding back, the Welshman was encouraged to continue the pace he was setting at the beginning of the rally. The youngster didn’t disappoint and rewarded his team of expert mechanics – who had worked throughout Friday night to provide him with a perfect Fiesta RS WRC – by posting a fourth fastest time on SS12 and continuing his development at the WRC’s highest level.
Regularly around half a second a kilometre off the pace of the leaders, Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt are making real progress whilst displaying all the potential for future success.
Following a successful weekend for the M-Sport team with 42 Ford Fiestas appearing on the entry list – the highest number of M-Sport cars to have ever appeared at a single WRC event – the team prepares for Rally Argentina with what looks set to be one of its highest entry percentages.
The rally organisers have released a provisional entry list, and of the 22 cars entered to date, 55 per cent carry the Blue Oval. Entries for the South American fixture close this Tuesday.
1. S.Ogier VW Polo R WRC
2. M.Hirvonen Ford Fiesta RS WRC
3. M.Ostberg Citroen DS3 WRC
4. A.Mikkelsen VW Polo R WRC
5. H.Solberg Ford Fiesta RS WRC
6. M.Prokop Ford Fiesta RS WRC
7. T.Neuville Hyundai i20 WRC
8. J.Hanninen Hyundai i20 WRC
9. N. Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta RRC
10. J.Ketoma Ford Fiesta R5