23 Jan 10
Last year's World Rally Championship runner-up, Mikko Hirvonen, was the class of the field on the 2010 Monte Carlo Rally, winning the event in a new Ford Fiesta S2000 after leading from start to finish on its competitive debut.
Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen mastered treacherous winter conditions in the mountains of southern France to reach the Monaco harbour finish in the early hours of Saturday morning with a winning margin of 1min 51.4sec.
The lead drivers of the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team made a guest appearance on the rally to give M-Sport's new Fiesta S2000 its first taste of competition, and themselves a warm-up for the forthcoming WRC season, which begins in Sweden next month.
The five-day Monte Carlo Rally is not part of the WRC this year, but still offered the sternest of challenges.
"It's always been a dream of mine to win the Monte Carlo Rally," explained 29-year-old Hirvonen. "It was a long, hard event and the conditions made the challenge even tougher. This car is brand new to competition but everything worked perfectly from the first kilometre. That's a tribute to the whole team, and particularly the people who put in so much effort over the last two weeks.
"To start the season with a win is a big confidence boost. I enjoy the winning feeling and I want to carry on like this when the WRC starts next month in Sweden," he added.
Hirvonen's closest rival for much of the event was another full time WRC driver; Sebastien Ogier of the Citroen Junior Team. Driving a Peugeot 207 S2000, Ogier overcame a costly off-road excursion early in the event to close to within 38.3 seconds of Hirvonen on Friday evening. But the Frenchman's bid for a second successive Monte win was ended when he retired on the road section heading to the penultimate stage.
Ogier's retirement, the result of a broken alternator pulley shaft, elevated Skoda's Juho Hanninen to second place with Nicolas Vouilloz, also in Skoda, finishing third.
M-Sport managing director Wilson said: "It's a dream debut for our new Fiesta S2000. We led from the first stage to the last and didn't experience a single problem, which is hugely encouraging for a new car. Mikko drove at exactly the pace he needed to win and his feedback will be crucial in our further development of the Fiesta."