Mikko Hirvonen leads after day one

Mikko Hirvonen leads after day one

26.06.2009: BP Ford Abu Dhabi Team driver Mikko Hirvonen leads Rally Poland tonight after a dramatic opening day on which championship leader Sebastien Loeb crashed out for the second rally in succession.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi Team driver Mikko Hirvonen leads Rally Poland tonight after a dramatic opening day on which championship leader Sebastien Loeb crashed out for the second rally in succession.

Feeling right at home on the high-speed gravel stages which resembled those in his native Finland, Hirvonen edged ahead of Loeb and into a slim rally lead on today's second stage (SS3). But his lead became far more secure on SS4 when Loeb retired from the day after crashing his Citroen into a tree stump.

Loeb's exit promoted Hirvonen's team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala into second place and despite pressure from a hard charging Dani Sordo in the remaining factory Citroen behind, the pair held formation for the rest of the day.

With a second consecutive one-two victory for Ford on the cards, the lead drivers could have been forgiven for taking things a little easier in the afternoon. On SS5, however, Latvala thumped in a stage win to close the gap on his team-mate to only 1.4sec. Hirvonen's response was swift and brutal; on SS6 he set a time 8.2 seconds quicker than anybody. Mikko completed the day with rally lead of 8.9sec.

"It’s been a fantastic day," said Hirvonen. "I've really enjoyed it even on the repeated stages the conditions weren't so bad, we've had a lot of fun."

Latvala agreed with his team-mate. "It’s been really good, with no problems at all and the car is working well," he said. "Mikko has gone well; I must say his time through the second stage this afternoon was unbelievable - otherwise I've a really good day! Dani is pushing us both hard, tomorrow we need to keep him behind."

Sordo completed the day 28.1 seconds adrift of Latvala's second place and also impressed by Hirvonen's pace on SS5. "Mikko was really fast, and of course I'm trying to go faster myself but it's difficult in these loose conditions; my car was moving around a lot this afternoon," he said. "Tomorrow I'll try to drive like I have today, but it's very important not to make a mistake."

WRC privateers Petter Solberg and fellow Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen were involved in an exciting scrap for fourth place for much of the afternoon. Petter edged 1.1sec ahead on the penultimate stage. But the final stage battle evaporated when Mikkelsen's Skoda stopped with an engine problem 22km into the last stage. "I've tried everything I could today, and I'm quite happy with the way it's gone," said Petter. "I pushed big time. You have to respect these stages but they are good fun to drive."

Petter's elder brother Henning rounded of the top five places after a largely frustrating day in his Stobart VK team Ford Focus. "I am not happy because my car is not working properly," he said. "I cannot do more than I am doing now. I hope I can get a faster car in time for Finland."

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26.06.2009 / MaP

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