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GP Week : Issue 147
WRC >>> PORTUGAL This was the rally where all the experts got it wrong. Alone of the top crews, Citroen's number two driver Mikko Hirvonen kept his car out of trouble on a wet, slippery and often foggy Rally of Portugal, cruising his way to apparent victory on an event which went completely contrary to form. The experts had long been busy reading all the signs and interpreting the indicators, deciding what would happen, specially in relation to the controversial night gravel stages on the first day, especially if the weather would be dry. But it was just the beginning. All through the rally they were defeated by the unexpected. The predicted dusty chaos never happened. The first rain storms came to the area after three months of drought, just in time. But that was only the start to an extraordinary few days in the holiday regions of the Algarve... Dashed predictions then continued through the four-day event and even on the final day, weather forecasts had little connection with reality. The unexpected kept happening. The wildly varying theories about the starting order selections for the night stages proved wide of the mark as the top three drivers were separated on the first evening by just five seconds. And as conditions worsened, prophesies that wisdom and experience would prevail came to nought, as Sebastien Loeb, Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg all went off the road in treacherously conditions. Finally the youngsters Mads Ostberg (24 years old) and Evgeniy Novikov (21 years old) overcame problems late in the event and ended up alongside Hirvonen on the podium ahead of Solberg who fought mightily to climb back to fourth. Or so it seemed, until post- event scrutineering ruled out the provisional winner. Mads Ostberg, 24, thus became a WRC rally winner! This was the rally where Ford had every chance to succeed. They had a new set of gearbox ratios, which seemed to give them an edge over their rival Citroens. The battle lines were drawn and then more of the unexpected happened again. On the second of the night time stages Loeb rolled off the road and damaged his roll- cage, causing his immediate retirement from the event. The rains which prevented the anticipated dust trouble continued into the next day and turned the stages used on the second day into slippery quagmires. On the first stage of Day 2 Latvala touched a rock Hirvonen (above) won on the road, but later in the evening there was some shock news for Mads Ostberg (below left) ... For Jari-Matti, it was a familiar story (below) ... 29 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: