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GP Week : Issue 172
WRC >>> SARDINIA Mikko Hirvonen gained his first WRC win for Citroen after an extraordinary four-day Rally Italia Sardegna in which the newly re-crowned world champion Sebastien Loeb and both Ford team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg went off the road. The plights of the top drivers left younger drivers fighting for second place, headed by 22 year-old Evgeniy Novikov followed by 24 year-old Ott Tanak (his first ever podium result, above) and 24 year-old Mads Ostberg (above right). There were two special stars of the show. First was Ostberg, who was the fastest driver on the stages, finishing fourth despite delays because of a broken subframe and a broken rear differential. His points at the end of the event put him third and, again, the top-placed non-Citroen driver in the drivers championship, despite missing two events this year. Second star was the VW team's S2000 driver Sebastien Ogier, scoring an outright scratch time against world rally cars, the first time this has happened for more than 30 months, and finishing ahead of more than half the WRC cars on the event. It was Hirvonen's third win with Citroen, after successes earlier this year in the Norwegian snow at Finnskog and then on the French asphalt Vosgien event. Loeb's accident was, in his classic style, a problem after he had already won the title – like last year on Wales Rally GB, and like this year's Rally of Portugal – going off the road on the third stage of the event. Stage 3 went badly for Citroen because this was where Qatar team driver Thierry Neuville rolled. He only lost six minutes but the team ordered him to stop for the day, as they were unsure how much oil had been lost from the engine, and also for medical reasons as Neuville had burned his fingers while righting the car. From the Friday afternoon onwards, Hirvonen's challenge was to avoid the endless rocks on the stages and keep the car on the road: "It seems the others are all dropping like flies", he quipped. The only other Citroen running well was Italian gentleman driver Luca Pedersoli who was thrilled to finish in the top 10. Citroen's troubles were all part of a rally where the interest never waned. Right from the start there was curiosity how the drivers would select their tyres for the unusual two-stage opening leg, bearing in mind the regulatory restricted supply of the preferred soft tyres, and also how to select the running order. Most drivers squandered some of their softs and, after winning the Qualifying Stage, Latvala surprisingly opted to run first on the road, noting that the second stage might well be held in the failing light event for the early crews. It was a disaster. He punctured and finished the short first leg in sixth place. On Day 2 both official Fords went off, 32 GPWEEK.com // 32 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: