M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen secured his maiden FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) podium at RallyRACC – Rally de España in 2005. This year, at the event’s 50th anniversary, the Finn is on course to repeat that feat – sitting pretty in third place overall.
With the Ford Fiesta RS WRCs converted from gravel to asphalt specification during last night’s 75 minute service, Hirvonen was keen to start the day on a high and did just that with an impressive run on what is generally considered to be his least preferred surface.
As the only dual surface event in the WRC, the key to success is to affect a clean transition from one surface to the next; and Hirvonen had that fully under control.
Benefitting from the team’s extensive pre-event asphalt test, the Finn drew confidence from Michelin’s upgraded Pilot Sport tyre. Having found the optimum set-up, his Ford Fiesta RS WRC worked in harmony with Michelin’s hard compound tyres – allowing him to set back-to-back third fastest times through ‘Tivissa’ (SS8) and the first pass of ‘Escaladei’ (SS10) which propelled him into a podium position.
Embarking on the afternoon loop, Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen continued to impress – another string of competitive times safeguarding their third place. As the event enters its final phase, the Finn has established a 30 second cushion over fourth-placed man Mads Østberg and has his eyes firmly fixed on adding another podium to his tally.
Mikko (3rd) said:
“We’re in a good position and on Tarmac as well so that is really good. I’m getting a good feeling with these tyres and the car – they’re just working really well for us. I’ve been really happy all day and we’ve not had any problems at all.
“We’ve managed to get a good gap between ourselves and Mads [Østberg] so I won’t have to go absolutely flat-out all the time tomorrow. I can control the situation and monitor his splits, but we still need to have a good rhythm. I’m pretty confident that we will be able to do it.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Mikko [Hirvonen] has had an incredible day. He had a really positive pre-event test and I think that gave him a lot of confidence going into today’s asphalt stages. He knew that he could make the new Michelin tyres work for him – there’s more movement in this compound which really suits his driving style – and it was great to see him so happy at the end of the day.