M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen is on course to bid farewell to the FIA World Rally Championship in style – locked in an intense battle for second at Wales Rally GB.
The Finn is at the head of one of the most exciting fights of the season – trading places with his rivals throughout the day. His fellow competitors may have had the upper hand over the morning loop, but the Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver bided his time.
As the stages became treacherously slippery for the afternoon loop, the team were confident that Hirvonen’s speed and experience would pay dividends. Proving that his team’s trust was not misplaced, he set a string of highly competitive times including the fastest time through the second pass of Clocaenog Main (SS15).
Having had the better of their rivals throughout the afternoon, Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen have established a 3.4 second advantage over third-placed man Kris Meeke with just 46.12 kilometres of competitive stages left to run.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt continued to concentrate on their own event. The Welshman is enjoying his first world rally car outing on home soil but refused to let any potential pressure deter his focus.
As one of the most mentally strong drivers in the championship, Evans is motivated towards achieving his own goals and refused to be drawn into any unnecessary battles. But a strong performance over the afternoon loop saw the Welshman reel his rivals to within a handful of seconds. Currently holding a strong sixth place, he and Barritt are just over 10 seconds shy of fourth position.
Mikko Hirvonen (2nd) said:
“I’ve really enjoyed the fight with Kris [Meeke] and it looks like it’s going to continue right through to the last corner of the rally! There’s no better way to finish the season and my last rally as well.
“I would really love to be on the podium. To be up there waving to all the fans would be amazing. It’s been a pretty perfect weekend so in a way I wouldn’t mind if it was second or third. Then again, I would really love to take the second place so it’s going to be a tough choice. We’ll see. I’ll start flat-out in the morning and see where we are after that.”
Elfyn Evans (6th) said:
“The stages were pretty much all new to me today. I’ve encountered them in various configurations over the years but never in that direction. The biggest challenge was the surface, especially on the second pass. It was tricky out there and we struggled in places but set some really encouraging times in others. We seemed to favour the last of the two stages as opposed to the first, but it’s not been a bad day and I think we can be reasonably pleased with what we have achieved today.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Mikko [Hirvonen] has had another fantastic day and it’s shaping up to be a great battle between him and Kris [Meeke] for second place. A lot can still happen and I think it is going to be fantastic for the spectators because there is no question that both of them will be flat-out tomorrow.
“Elfyn [Evans] too has had a really good day. He’s still finding the conditions difficult, but from my point of view I think this has been one of his best performances on gravel. If you look at the gaps to the guys ahead of him, you wouldn’t think that it was his first time here in a world rally car so it has been a job well done by him today.”
Ott Tänak (7th) said:
“It’s been a lot better than yesterday. We had a good feeling in the morning and we improved the set-up at midday service so I felt a lot more confident. We had a bit of a moment on the last stage but we managed to make it through. It’s normal to have a moment or two in Wales – without one, it’s not a proper GB rally – and I am happy with the job we have done today.”
Henning Solberg (9th) said:
“I was pushing really hard and the day started really well. I was really pleased to set a fast time and I need to thank M-Sport for getting a car ready for me in such short notice, it’s been perfect all day today. Unfortunately we had a puncture at the start of SS16 which lost us a lot of time, but that is just the way it is and I’ll push hard again tomorrow.”
Matthew Wilson (15th / 3rd WRC 2) said:
“It’s been a really good day. The first two stages in the loop were really strong and I just seemed to enjoy that particular forest [Clocaenog]. Obviously it was a shame to have SS12 cancelled. It’s one of my favourites so it would have been nice to have had the opportunity to run it in the daylight.
“Then in the afternoon we had a really strong run again. We had a bit of an issue with the lights which lost us a bit of time, but that was my fault. The last one [SS17] was a bit tricky as we didn’t do it in the daylight and in the dark it was really difficult to judge the grip levels.
“But I’m really happy with the day. We’re in a big fight – the gaps are pretty close behind and Lorenzo [Bertelli] isn’t that far ahead. Anything can still happen to let’s hope for another good day tomorrow.”
Quentin Gilbert (23rd / 9th) said:
“It was a much better day for me today. I felt a lot more confident and we set a lot of good times including a fastest stage time and a couple of second fastest stage times as well. I was really pleased with my pace but we picked up a puncture about one kilometre into the last stage. It’s been a good day and I have been really happy with my pace.”
Nicolas Fuchs (26th / 11th) said:
“It was a better day for me today. We made some changes to the set-up and I felt a lot more confident in the car. On the final stage we had a puncture and lost a lot of time, but this is rallying. Tomorrow I hope that we can progress a little more and continue to learn.”