Hirvonen leads Rally Australia after Day 1
- 9th September 2011, 8:03pm
Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala has proved that he won’t give up on winning Rally Australia without a fight after clocking the fastest time on today’s final gravel test to cut Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen’s lead to 6.6s.
With rain returning following a brief respite, Latvala was 2.9s quicker than Hirvonen in his works Fiesta RS WRC.
“It didn’t affect my driving because the road was slippery enough already,” he said.
Hirvonen said: “It’s good because it wasn’t raining so much for me on the stage. The conditions have been like hell, unbelievably slippery.”
New Zealander Hayden Paddon continues to lead the Production Car World Rally Championship in seventh overall, one place behind Team Abu Dhabi’s Khalid Al Qassimi.
Hirvonen completed the 12.78-kilometre seventh special stage 4.1s faster than Latvala, with Petter Solberg third quickest in his privateer Citroen.
Russian Evgeny Novikov stopped 1.5 kilometres into the stage after hitting a rock in his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta. His retirement promoted teammates Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson into fourth and fifth places respectively.
Hirvonen moved into the lead of Rally Australia, being staged on the New South Wales Coffs Coast, after Sebastien Ogier crashed out of first place.
Ogier began the Shipmans stage with a lead of 9.1s over Hirvonen but was reported to have hit a tree and retired his works Citroen DS3 WRC.
His teammate and championship leader Sebastien Loeb retired for the day after rolling over on stage two this morning. His team was working to repair the car for tomorrow.
“It was so unbelievably slippery and when you brake it is like ice,” said Hirvonen.
“I went off the road but it was into a field so there was nothing to hit.”
Latvala, who won the stage held in treacherous conditions following heavy rain, said: “I had few moments and a couple of times I was hitting the banks to keep on the road. It was extremely difficult, even dangerous in some places.”
Several drivers reported spins or going off the road completely as the slippery surface took its toll.
Al Qassimi removed the front bumper from his Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta while Daniel Oliveira completed the stage with damage to the radiator of his MINI John Cooper Works WRC following an off.
Paddon continued to lead the Production Car World Rally Championship despite reporting that he went off the road on several occasions.
“I don’t care about how much time I lost – I’m just so relieved to be here,” he said.
Loeb accepted blame for the crash that put him out of the lead this morning.
Loeb was leading the world championship qualifier by 2.0s when he rolled an estimated five times approximately halfway through the 12.78-kilometre Brooklana test after taking a right-hand turn too quickly.
“I went too fast into the right-hander because I done the mistake when I saw a split time on the dash,” said Loeb. “I was not concentrated, I didn’t brake enough for the corner and I was too fast.”
Loeb denied he had been pushing too hard in the slippery conditions.
He added: “I was not taking risks and I had done a very clean stage before that. I was looking at something when I saw the corner too late.”
M-Sport Stobart driver Matthew Wilson described the moment when he encountered Loeb’s stricken Citroen DS3 WRC.
“I couldn’t really believe it – it was quite a shock,” said Wilson. “It wasn’t a very fast place, a slow right after a fourth-gear right.”
VIEW PHOTOS FROM DAY 1 OF RALLY AUSTRALIA HERE
Leading positions after SS10: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 1h17m11.2s 2. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 7.0s 3. Petter Solberg Solberg Citroen + 44.3s 4. Henning Solberg Stobart Ford + 2m26.9s 5. Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford + 3m03.1s 6. Khalid Al Qassimi Abu Dhabi Ford + 4m47.3s 7. Hayden Paddon Symtech Subaru + 5m19.7s 8. Michal Kosciuszko Lotos Mitsubishi + 6m39.9s 9. Oleksandr Saliuk Mentos Mitsubishi + 7m22.4s 10. Benito Guerra GMA Mitsubishi + 8m28.3s
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