M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen was back on form as Rally de Portugal embarked on the first full day of competition today. Engrossed in an epic battle with fellow M-Sport driver Ott Tänak and reigning world champion Sebastien Ogier, Hirvonen took the lead on the final test of the day – holding a 3.7 lead over Tänak and a 6.5 second advantage over Ogier going into tomorrow’s penultimate day.
Growing in confidence with each new kilometre, Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen looked at one behind the wheel of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Proving to have lost none of their drive or determination to win, the M-Sport pairing put in a highly competitive and consistent performance to come out on top at the end of the day.
Conditions were far from easy, and crews had to contend with a journey into the unknown as deceptively changing grip levels and tricky blind crests were the order of the day. Hirvonen adapted to the conditions brilliantly – setting a string of top-three times including a fastest time through the final 26.48 kilometre stage (SS7).
Rewarded with running as the final World Rally Car on the road for tomorrow’s 146.28 kilometres, the Finn will be aiming to defend his position and bring home a strong result for the M-Sport team.
Mikko Hirvonen (1st) said:
“It’s been a really enjoyable day with a great fight at the front; to be leading at the end of it, it’s a really good feeling. It’s not been an easy day by all means, but everything has been working well and I think that the times and the position that we find ourselves in now is proof of that.
“We opted for the soft tyres for the afternoon, and on the long stage [SS7] I think it probably did help us. When I left service, I was sure we had made the right choice, but after the first stage [of the afternoon, SS5] I was a little nervous. It was a tricky one to get right, but I think we managed it well.
“There are still two difficult days to go, and I am sure that Sebastien [Ogier] and Ott [Tänak] will not give up without a fight, but neither will we!”