ATHENS, Greece - Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished third in the gruelling Acropolis Rally in Greece after a thrilling final leg.
They hunted down Sébastien Loeb in their Fiesta RS World Rally Car during a tense battle for second, and ended just three seconds behind after the duel was only decided in the final live TV speed test.
Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished in ninth place following a troubled weekend.
The Acropolis is famed as the toughest round of the series. Rocky gravel mountain tracks and intense heat that reached 35ºC provided a tough challenge for both man and machine throughout the three-day event. Competitors tackled 18 speed tests covering 348.80km, with today's 65.58km of action the shortest leg of the weekend.
“It's the second consecutive rally where I've lost a final day battle by a handful of seconds and that's frustrating,” said Hirvonen. “It was a rough and extremely hot rally, but that's normal here, and the car worked perfectly all weekend.
"I knew it was going to be close and if there was one more 20km stage then I believe I could have taken second. I'm consistently scoring good points in the championship, but I need a win. The next round is my home event in Finland and nothing less than victory will be enough there," he added.
Latvala was delayed by transmission problems on Friday and turbo failure Saturday. However, the 26-year-old Finn maintained a strong pace and after restarting in 11th, he climbed back into the points to finish ninth. He won three stages to take his tally for the weekend to five.
"It was a hard weekend, but despite my technical troubles, I finished in the points and I'm relieved to be here," he explained. "I had a good pace and targeted the bonus points in the Power Stage, but it just wasn't our rally. The Greek Gods were not looking after me at all here.
"I'm looking forward to the summer break and then preparing for the next round on home ground in Finland. My chances of winning the drivers' championship have all but disappeared, so my priority in the second half of the season will be to concentrate on scoring points for Ford in the manufacturers' series," he added.
Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson admitted he was disappointed not to extend Ford's winning record in the championship's toughest round. "We've won here seven times in the last 10 rallies but unfortunately we couldn't improve our great record. Both drivers performed well. Mikko drove a calculated rally but lost out by a small amount, while I'm disappointed for Jari-Matti because he was in a perfect position to challenge for victory," he said.
Ford of Europe motorsport chief Gerard Quinn said: "It was a tough weekend and I'm disappointed that we didn't close out the first half of the season with a win. It's a shame that today's performance wasn't replicated on Friday and Saturday because that would have put us into a winning position. We will focus on the second part of the season and pursue victories more aggressively, because both championships are still open."
1. S.Ogier Citroen
2. S.Loeb Citroen
3. M.Hirvonen Ford
4. P.Solberg Citroen
5. H.Solberg Ford
6. M.Wilson Ford
7. K. Räikkönen Citroen
8. J.Hanninen Citroen
9. J-M Latvala Ford
10. D.Kuipers Ford