Poland countdown: the stages
We take a look at the route of the first WRC Rally Poland since 2009
Reigning world champion, Sebastien Loeb, launched himself to the head of the field on the second stage but his rally was over two stages later when he made an uncharacteristic mistake.
The Frenchman drove into a concealed tree stump at the side of the stage and took a wheel off his Citroen C4 WRC.
"I hit a tree stump just on the side of the road which I didn't see on the recce because it was covered by sand," Loeb said. "We hit it with the right-hand front wheel and that's totally broken. It's not so good."
With Loeb out of contention, Hirvonen took the initiative and raced into the lead ahead of Latvala. Both men were desperate to beat each other in their M-Sport-prepared Focus WRCs, and they traded times for the next 14 stages.
By the time they arrived at the final stage, the 2.5km super special in Mikolajki, Hirvonen’s lead was a comfortable 17.8s over Latvala. It seemed a formality that both men would fill the top two places on the podium.
But Latvala put paid to that. His hard work on the previous two days was undone in a moment of madness at Mikolajki. The 24-year-old went wide on a right-hand corner and crashed his Focus against the barrier that divided the two-lane stage.
With a broken front wheel and suspension, he couldn’t even limp to the stage finish. His rally was over.
Hirvonen was confirmed as the rally winner, taking top spot by 1m 10s from Citroen’s Dani Sordo. Henning Solberg, driving a private Ford Focus WRC, was third. He was a further 55s behind Sordo.
Poland’s WRC debut
Rally Poland had only ever been part of the World Rally Championship calendar on one occasion before 2009 – way back in 1973.
It was one of the lucky events to be included in the inaugural World Rally Championship in 1973 and crews tackled 55 stages on both gravel and asphalt surfaces.
Achim Warmbold and Jean Todt won the event in their Fiat Abarth 124 Rallye by almost three hours. And of the 62 crews that started the rally, Warmbold and Todt were one of only three that made it to the finish – a WRC record that still stands.