The battle raged in the morning stages as Sebastian Loeb took an early lead. However, a differential change at the mid day service park saw Mikko surge ahead of his title rival. Once ahead, the Ford number one began to pull away until Sebastian threw in the towel and Hirvonen was able to take the opening round by 42.3 seconds.
The second factory Ford of Jari-Matti Latvala was able to take the final step on the podium after Dani Sordo’s day two problems. The podium gives Ford a near perfect start to the 2010 campaign as they look to take the fight to Loeb and Citroen. A brilliant drive by Latvala in my opinion as he did exactly what was necessary for Ford and Mikko to claim the top spots. I think the clear definition of Jari’s role before the rally was the difference maker as he needed a solid start to the 2010 season.
Sebastian Ogier was able to take a strong fifth place as the highest placed non factory entrant. The Frenchman was still riding high after his brilliant performance in Monte and showed it this weekend by holding off the Stobarts of Henning Solberg and that of Matthew Wilson who finished sixth and seventh respectably.
Mads Ostberg had a solid opening round as he was able to recover from some problems to finish in the eighth spot with his Subaru Impreza WRC machine. Petter Solberg had a weekend he is sure to forget after finishing ninth. The Norwegian fought problems all weekend to claim a top ten spot. The accident between himself and Matt Wilson was only the start of things after handling issues seen his C4 never become a factor.
Kimi Raikkonen had an embarrassing weekend as he finished around 30th position, well over half an hour behind the leaders. A better finish was expected for the Finn as this is not his first go in the snow. A number of spins and snow bank collisions shows that the 2007 champion has a lot to learn if he is to be successful. If I was the Kimster I would be thinking about getting back into an F1 car for this next season. The media circus that he brings may abandon him before the halfway point of the season if he does not pick it up. Driving the C4 that he had, I expected more out of a champion and a Finn to be honest and find his performance laughable at best. The highlight of the weekend was when he put up the sixth best time in SS15. Hardly an impressive result given the rest of the event.
P-G Andersson dominated the first round of the SWRC in his Skoda Fabia S2000. Andreas Mikkelsen would finish in the runner up spot but would never pose a threat to P-G as he takes the win on home soil. Patrik Flodin also dominated the production class as well. It looked as though he would have to work hard to secure the win from Anders Grondal, but the Subaru did not have enough and Flodin drove the wheels off his car to take a very convincing win.
Next WRC event is in Mexico for what promises to be an exciting event. Will Loeb be able to take one back from Mikko, or will Hirvonen look to extend his lead in the championship? Keep it here at openpaddock.net for full reviews of the rally and the first appearance of American Ken Block in an M-Sport Focus.
Final Top Ten Finishers:
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 3h09m30.4s
2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 42.3s
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 1m15.4s
4. Dani Sordo Citroen + 2m41.6s
5. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 4m15.3s
6. Henning Solberg Ford + 5m23.4s
7. Matthew Wilson Ford + 7m53.9s
8. Mads Ostberg Subaru + 9m22.2s
9. Petter Solberg Citroen + 10m17.5s
10. P-G Andersson Skoda + 12m08.9s
Championship after Rd. 1
1. Mikko Hirvonen 25
2. Sebastien Loeb 18
3. Jari-Matti Latvala 15
4. Dani Sordo 12
5. Sebastien Ogier 10
6. Henning Solberg 8
7. Matthew Wilson 6
8. Mads Ostberg 4
9. Petter Solberg 2
10. P-G Andersson 1