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GP Week : Issue 57
>>WRCFINLAND T HE others were nowhere! The four official Ford and Citroen entries completely dominated the Neste Oil Rally Finland, leaving the others straggling far behind. Mikko Hirvonen gained his third successive WRC victory and now leads the Drivers’ championship by three points in front of five-times champion Sebastien Loeb, and the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team have reduced Citroen Total’s lead in the Manufacturers’ series by three points, but are still 14 points adrift. This time, Hirvonen’s teammate Jari-Matti Latvala did everything expected of him, finishing a solid third position ahead of Loeb’s teammate Dani Sordo. With only three rallies to go, Ford is cautiously optimistic of ending Loeb’s successful run of drivers’ titles, but Citroen are still favourites to retain the makes’ series. It was Mikko’s dream finally to win his country’s World Championship rally and truly engrave his name alongside the names of his country’s greatest drivers, a very personal success. By his own admission his rival Loeb struggled to find his rhythm: “Looking at his times we could tell that Mikko has improved a lot over the last year. We were following him through the stages all the way and I could see he was driving far further into the ditches than I was! He made a perfect rally …” Loeb’s observations were easy to reconcile. The front of Hirvonen’s Ford carried many dents from where he had hit trees and marker posts on the inside of the bends. On the second afternoon Loeb had a puncture which cost him 10 seconds or so, and that was when the champion lost contact with the Finn and mentally settled for a safer second place instead. And of the others there was little sign. Petter Solberg initially lay second but went off the road on Stage 4. Matti Rantanen however performed impressively to finish best non-works driver for the second successive year (albeit over four minutes behind) but sixth placed Sebastien Ogier was the only Citroen Junior driver (unlike Novikov and Rautenbach) to stay on the road. Ogier fought hard to get ahead of Mads Ostberg, but the Norwegian went off five stage from the finish – in fact on the same bend as F1 star Kimi Raikkonen ended his run. Matthew Wilson scraped into the drivers points in eighth place but Henning Solberg had suspension failure, while Federico Villagra scored two points for the Munchi’s team. A superb seventh place went to the private driver Jari Ketomaa in a 2007 Subaru World Rally Car, a car which was a disaster when it was used by the works team but which was transformed when he changed the suspension system. Raikkonen’s entry added a very special factor which made this high speed Finnish rally especially fascinating. It was the first time a driver of such standing had ever entered a World Championship rally – his first ever summer gravel rally. He did not finish, but he was surprisingly competitive in the Group N category. When he went off the road with four stages to go, it was disappointing. The Finnish Rally also produced a new champion. Czech driver Martin Prokop clinched the 2009 FIA Junior World Championship, leading the JWRC category on the event in his Citroen C2 Super 1600 from end to end. With one event still to go, he is unbeatable in this category. This was his second successive JWRC category win on the Neste Oil Finland Rally. “This was a dream weekend for Ford, both drivers did exactly what we looked for,” concluded M-Sport chief Malcolm Wilson. “Now comes Australia, a great unknown – we don’t know what it will be like for Mikko driving first car on the road. Mikko has a good record on new rallies, so we hope this will be a statement that Citroen will read!” Mikko had driven brilliantly, with just a bit of luck. Running first car on gravel roads normally is a worry, but the weather dampened the tracks when drier conditions would have worked against him. Victory was a result that not only he and his fellow Finns wanted; it seems that the heavens wanted it as well. 27