One would be pushed to find two crews with more varied experience of Rally Sweden’s specialist stages, but M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen and Elfyn Evans both made a strong start to their respective rallies today.
As one of the podium contenders, Hirvonen secured fifth position while Evans achieved his Day 1 objective of making it through all six stages unscathed in 12th place overall.
Contesting two loops of three identical stages, the day’s action saw crews venture to neighbouring Norway before returning to Hagfors for the only service of the day. Mixed conditions offered a surface which varied from good snow to exposed gravel, but that failed to stop the crews excelling in what were somewhat untraditional circumstances.
Having made a welcome return to the M-Sport fold, Hirvonen was rediscovering his rhythm behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta RS WRC – exchanging times with the leaders and setting himself up nicely for the remaining two days of competition.
He and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen put in a flawless performance as they got back to grips with their Fiesta’s handling – a fact which puts them well and truly in contention for the podium positions just 22.5 seconds adrift of the lead.
Making their Swedish debut, it was mission accomplished for Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt. Despite a half spin on the first test of the morning (Torsby 1, SS2), the pairing looked comfortable behind the wheel of their Fiesta RS WRC.
Gaining pace as the day’s action unfolded, the British duo accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience. With all to play for, Evans will be chasing a top-ten spot in the days to come.
Mikko Hirvonen (=5th) said:
“It’s been a good day for us. On the first stage [SS2] I was a little bit cautious as I really didn’t want to make the same mistake as last year, but other than that everything has been OK.
“Our times have been a little bit up and down when compared to the leaders so we will have to wait and see what tomorrow brings. Our pace has been improving throughout the day, so hopefully we’ll be able to continue what we started and end tomorrow in another strong position.”
Elfyn Evans (12th) said:
“It’s been a difficult day, but also a very valuable one. We made a small mistake on the first stage [SS2], but other than that we’ve had a completely clean run of stages which gives us a really good base to build on. I’ve certainly learnt a lot, and I’m looking forward to building on that again tomorrow.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“For what is usually an event with a consistent surface and good grip, I think that this is probably one of the most challenging Rally Sweden’s we have seen for more than 30 years. Both Mikko [Hirvonen] and Elfyn [Evans] have made a very solid start given the circumstances.
“Mikko is getting back to his best. He’s set some good times and is still well within touching distance. As we move into tomorrow’s stages, I hope his experience will come into play and that we’ll see him put some pressure on the leaders.
“Elfyn too has done exactly what he needed to do today. He’s taken a really intelligent approach – making it through all of the stages with no mistakes. I hope that he can continue to learn and gain more experience as the event continues.”