14 Jun 08
The first opportunity for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team to put its road position strategy to the test came on Saturday’s opening 16km Chimera stage, SS10.
Sure enough, Hirvonen was quicker than his title rival, Citroen Total driver Sebastien Loeb; the Finn recording the fastest time to narrow the gap to Loeb from 6.8sec to 2.9sec.
Hirvonen reported no problems during the run, and said he wasn’t surprised not to have taken more time out of Loeb on the stage which had already used on Friday, “We are talking about the four time world champion here,” he said at the finish.
Loeb meanwhile, said he was to make the best of his disadvantageous running position. “It’s a challenge but I couldn’t help what the Fords did,” he said. “I’m flat out and pushing hard. That’s all I can do.”
Hirvonen’s team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala was second fastest and moved up to the same place overall. “I can’t go any faster,” said Latvala. “We are on the limit; I couldn’t take any more out of Loeb.”
Henning Solberg dropped three places to fifth overall after a slow time through Chimera. “I’m not sure why I’m slower,” he said at the finish line.
The stage was stopped after one of the P-WRC competitors went off the road close to the start line. The rest of the cars completed stage as a liaison section and were given the same notional time.