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GP Week : 29-Apr-2008
F ORD team leader Mikko Hirvonen finally won an amazing Jordan Rally, his first victory of the 2008 season and his personal fifth, after an event in which five drivers took turns holding the lead. Behind came the two top championship pretenders, Citroen driver Dani Sordo, scoring his eighth second career place, and Subaru driver Chris Atkinson, for whom this was his fourth podium finish in five events run so far this year. Drivers’ championship leader Sebastien Loeb scored no championship points after a bizarre traffic accident with another Citroen diver and is now five points behind Hirvonen in the Drivers’ table. The BP Ford Abu Dhabi team is seven points ahead of Citroen Total in the Manufacturers’ title race. This was a rally where nobody took things for granted, and everyone had a tale to tell: “On the second stage I went off the road and was incredibly lucky not to damage the car or lose much time,” Hirvonen confessed, happy however that luck was on his side. After Loeb’s problems, the Ford team used ‘go-slow’ tactics to disadvantage Loeb’s team-mate Sordo for his running order on the final day. The Spaniard, however, did well to counter these manoeuvres and in fact it was Jari-Matti Latvala who suffered in the last day rush to the finish. Day 1 After the disappointing time for their rivals Ford in Argentina, Citroen travelled to Jordan full of hope that Sebastien Loeb would gain a magical 40th World rally win. For a while it seemed this was going to happen. Loeb started the first day first car on the road, suffering from the slippery gravel coating of the road, while his team-mate Sordo started sixth, a perfect opportunity to make the running on the opening stages, which he did. On the second run through the stages Loeb caught back lost time and closed the gap on Sordo, so at the end of Day 1 Citroens were lying first and second, the Fords of Latvala and Hirvonen third and fourth. Subaru continued to suffer damper troubles, although Petter Solberg was equal leader after Stage 1 and Atkinson ended the day fifth. Day 2 The dramas which emerged on the second morning beggared belief. Loeb had got in front of Sordo on the first stage of the day, but no sooner had he competed Stage 11 than he drove headlong into the front of another rally car on a road section and had to abandon for the day. And it wasn’t just any other rally car, it was the Citroen C4 driven by Conrad Rautenbach – in fact an ex-works car which Loeb had often rallied himself! Both cars looked badly damaged, but overnight they were repaired and able to restart on the final morning, albeit with heavy penalties against the crews. Sordo found he was again running first car on the road and, by the afternoon, the two Fords had passed him into the lead, with Latvala leading Hirvonen. Then came the trickiest part – ‘preparing’ for the final and longest day. Once again the stages were to be repeated, but in the morning there was 67km of virgin ‘uncleaned’ stages where the first car on the road would be at the greatest disadvantage. As the end of Day 2 approached Ford planned their strategy. Sordo would be the first driver to reach the end of the final stage of the day, and as soon as this happened Ford’s tacticians calculated the times which Latvala and Hirvonen had to achieve in order allow Sordo to regain the lead and thus be Car 1 on the final day. As they reached the end of the stage the two Fords slowed dramatically, allowing their excess times to waste away. It was judged to a nicety and Sordo was forced back into the lead again and would head the rally on the final day. Day 3 It looked like the might of Ford would prevail but then Latvala had suspension trouble and dropped right back handing the lead to Hirvonen. Sordo consolidated second place and, after a depressing rally when he sensed his car was well off the required speed, Atkinson scored another podium place. WRC JORDAN >> 35