Hirvonen & Citroen win 2012 Rally Portugal

A bemused Mikko Hirvonen moved into the World Rally Championship lead after he claimed his first victory for the Citroen team in Portugal. The Finn had dominated a rally which turned out to be a paradox of its exotic location in Portugal. Instead of the postcard images of sunny climes, competitors had faced rain, fog and mud which encouraged the usual frontrunners into making costly mistakes. The first of these was Hirvonen's illustrious team-mate Sebastien Loeb who crashed out on Thursday's opening night, followed by the Ford duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg, sliding out of the lead on consecutive stage amid torrential rain on Friday; Ford was not amused by its 'star' drivers missing the golden opportunity to capitalise on the potential points haul!

All this action left Hirvonen to control the rest of the weekend at his leisure with his final margin of victory1m51.8s over Adapta Ford's Mads Ostberg, as Russian Evgeny Novikov (M-Sport Ford) secured his maiden WRC podium in third. Both independent Ford drivers survived final day scares - Ostberg's car developing a misfire on Sunday morning, and Novikov driving most of the final loop with a broken throttle pedal. Despite this issue, Novikov managed to hang on just ahead of Solberg, who surged back up the order under Rally 2 to take fourth, even though a power steering failure cost him more time on Saturday afternoon. Team-mate Latvala had a fuel pressure problem on leg three and lost 12 more minutes on top of his Friday crash delay, and had to settle for 14th place and two power stage bonus points.

Nasser Al-Attiyah recovered from a late puncture on his Qatar Citroen to win a close fight for fifth with Czech National Ford driver Martin Prokop, as both celebrated career-best WRC finishes. Dennis Kuipers took seventh on his first appearance of 2012 in an M-Sport Ford, despite Sebastien Ogier's best efforts to catch him in the giant-killing Volkswagen-entered S2000 Skoda. Thierry Neuville was in the top five for Citroen Junior until his car overheated on Friday morning. The Belgian recovered to ninth - although he must get back to service on a damaged tyre to secure the result after two punctures on the final loop. Jari Ketomaa scored a point in 10th at the end of an issue packed weekend in the Autotek Ford, taking the place on the last stage when Peter van Merksteijn Jr's private Citroen broke a driveshaft.

None of the Minis made it into the top 10 with local hero Armindo Araujo crashing out on Thursday night. Prodrive's Patrik Sandell lost fourth place to damaged suspension on Saturday afternoon and his team-mate Dani Sordo took a number of stage wins as he flew under Rally 2 following Thursday evening electrical issues, although a later exhaust problem and punctures meant 12th overall at the finish but he did get three points for winning the power stage. All in all, the top-ten contained some mighty unfamiliar names when the music finally stopped!

Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen 4h19m24.3s
2. Mads Ostberg Adapta Ford + 1m51.8s
3. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford + 3m25.0s
4. Petter Solberg Ford + 3m47.4s
5. Nasser Al-Attiyah Qatar Citroen + 7m57.6s
6. Martin Prokop Czech Ford + 8m01.0s
7. Dennis Kuipers M-Sport Ford + 8m39.1s
8. Sebastien Ogier VW Skoda + 9m00.8s
9. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior + 10m29.7s
10. Jari Ketomaa Autotek Ford + 11m44.6s

1st April, 2012