WRC Rallyes - NORWAY Sunday morning stages review

WRC Rallyes - NORWAY Sunday morning stages review

15.02.2009: The hectic battle for the lead swung back Mikko Hirvonen’s way on the final stage of the morning loop when the Finn was quicker than Sebastien Loeb through the 19.74km Budor test.

SS20: Flat-out stage favours Hirvonen

The hectic battle for the lead swung back Mikko Hirvonen’s way on the final stage of the morning loop when the Finn was quicker than Sebastien Loeb through the 19.74km Budor test.

Featuring one of the longest flat-out sections of the whole season, the closing 4km of Budor resembled a packed ice drag strip and seemed to favour Hirvonen’s Ford Focus over Loeb’s C4. The WRC GPS tracking system recorded a maximum speed of 202kph for Hirvonen on the straight, compared to 194kph for Loeb.

“At least we’re winning somewhere - but it’s not enough,” said Hirvonen, who still trailed Loeb by 14.6sec as he prepared to return to Hamar. “This stage is so fast that you are on the limit all the time. There’s nothing much else you can do. It’s a bit silly really.”

Sebastien Loeb said: “I saw I was two seconds slower on the splits, so I knew I would lose some time. I pushed hard at the end and made no mistakes. Of course top speed is important here - but there are only two places like this on the rally. We are working more on traction and the power in corners.”

Dani Sordo continued his close fight with Henning Solberg for fourth place. Sordo was quicker through Budor but only by three-tenths of a second. “In the second split I was faster but then I lost time to Henning in the slow corners,” explained the Spaniard.

In the battle for sixth, Petter Solberg stayed ahead of Matthew Wilson after setting the seventh quickest time and recording a top speed of 208kph in his Xsara. “I had good speed out of the corner at the start of the straight and had the balls to do it!” said Solberg. “I might not be able to get the best stage times but the throttle is staying down.”

Wilson returned to service 3.6sec behind Petter but glad to have cleared SS20 in one piece. “It’s not bad because we had an intercom problem on he start line and [my co-driver] Scott and I had to swap helmets,” he explained.

SS19: Loeb bites back!

Sebastien Loeb recovered completely from Mikko Hirvonen's opening stage attack by going 6.1sec faster than his rival through the following SS19.

At the end of the 13.31km Ekverum, the Citroen driver's rally lead stood at 15.8sec - eight-tenths healthier than it had been at the start of the day.

Citroen privateer Petter Solberg went fourth fastest to extend the gap over Matthew Wilson to 2.5sec, but there were no position changes within the top ten.

After the stage crews drove directly to the start of the 19.74km Budor - the last stage before the midpoint 30-minute service.

SS18: Hirvonen makes his move

On Sunday’s opening stage Mikko Hirvonen slashed Sebastien Loeb’s overnight lead from 15sec to 9.7sec to put himself firmly back in the fight for a second Rally Norway victory.

Unlike most world championship rallies Norway saves its longest day of competition until the end, with a massive 126.16km scheduled today. The opening 30.03km Valer is the longest of the rally, and was always going to be the best opportunity for Hirvonen to try and catch his rival.

Unlike Saturday, road position turned out to be crucial - at least on Valer. Loeb was first to complete the stage and at the finish control explained why he had had been unable to match Hirvonen’s time. “I think we are cleaning the road,” he said. “There is a fine layer of snow on the ice and that affects the grip. I’m sure I did some good lines and I’m happy with my driving, I just couldn’t have done much better.”

Hirvonen, second in today’s start order, drove his Ford Focus though the stage 5.3sec quicker than Loeb had managed in his C4. “This was the plan,” said Hirvonen. “It went really well. I had a clean drive now hopefully I can keep it going like this. You have to take big risks but I didn’t make many mistakes.”

Jari-Matti Latvala was third fastest on the stage, almost 20 sec slower than his team-mate Hirvonen. At the finish control Latvala ruled himself out of the fight for the lead, saying he was eyeing six champonship points today instead. “I wanted to drive fast of course, but being realistic I don’t want to take the maximum risks,” he said. “I honestly have to say the guys are going very quick at the front now.”

Henning Solberg went fourth fastest to extend the gap over Dani Sordo in the overall standings. “It’s a good start but I think the surface is breaking up and it’s getting slower for us drivers further down the start order,” he said. Sordo said he had tried to catch Solberg but had struggled in the conditions. “It’s difficult to drive like that,” he said after completing the stage 14 seconds slower.

Petter Solberg remained just ahead in the battle for sixth with Matthew Wilson, but the Norwegian’s advantage stood at just 0.3 sec after SS18. “We have no problems, we’re going as fast as we can,” said Petter. “I’ll do all I can but I’m sure on these fast stages Matthew will pull away.”

Before the stage ninth placed Mads Ostberg collected a 50 second penalty for leaving service late. “We changed the power-steering rack last night but we had to change the rack too this morning,” he said. “We were just about to leave when we discovered that all the suspension clicks were wrong, so we had to stop and change them. A lot of strange things are happening.”

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15.02.2009 / MaP

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