Mikko Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen have continued their perfect start to 2010 by winning the first round of the World Rally Championship in Sweden. The Ford pair beat archrivals Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena by 42.3 seconds over the 21 snowy stages. In third was Hirvonen’s team mate, Jari-Matti Latvala, while fourth went to Loeb’s Citroen team mate Dani Sordo. Sweden also saw the WRC debut of 2007 F1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn traded some respectable stage times with Matthew Wilson but also struggled with the snow banks getting stuck on more than one occasion and having to resort to a shovel to extract his Red Bull-backed Citroen C4. Petter Solberg didn’t even reach the stages proper before spinning, embarrassingly losing 18sec on the opening super special. Another former champion, Marcus Gronholm, also struggled during the initial stages of the rally. However, he was back near the top of the time sheets once he’d changed the set up on his Focus, even setting the fastest time on stage 14. The snow and ice-covered roads in Sweden are notoriously unforgiving and it is imperative to try and keep to the ruts as even a wheel wide in the more powdery snow will send you crowd-pleasingly sideways but lose you huge amounts of time. The cars run on studded tyres and the conservation of these as the stages became rougher throughout the rally was a constant source of concern for all the drivers. Hirvonen, however, didn’t put a wheel wrong, with his team boss Malcolm Wilson praising Saturday as the Finn's ‘best ever single day performance’. A new points system this season means Hirvonen takes 25 points for his win, Loeb takes 18 for his second place and Latvala 15 for third. The points also now go all the way to 10th place, taken very impressively by popular local P-G Andersson in an S2000 Fiesta. After beating the IRC (Intercontinental Rally Challenge) boys in Monte Carlo Hirvonen has lots to smile about as he now leads two championships. All he will care about though is leading the WRC at the end of the season. Next up is the Corona Rally Mexico on 5-7th March, where eyes will be on a certain Ken Block making his WRC debut.
Click here to view a video roundup from Sweden Final positions 1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 09min 30.4sec 2. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 3hr 10min 12.7sec 3. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 10min 45.8sec 4. D Sordo/M Marti ESP Citroen C4 3hr 12min 12.0sec 5. S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Citroen C4 3hr 13min 45.7sec 6. H Solberg/I Minor NOR Ford Focus RS 3hr 15min 23.8sec 7. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS 3hr 17min 24.3sec 8. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Subaru Impreza 3hr 18min 52.6sec 9. P Solberg/P Mills NOR Citroen C4 3hr 19min 47.9sec 10 P-G Andersson/A Fredriksson SWE Skoda Fabia 3hr 21min 49.3sec Drivers' Championship1. M Hirvonen 25pts 2. S Loeb 18pts 3. J-M Latvala 15pts 4. D Sordo 12pts 5. S Ogier 10pts 6. H Solberg 8pts7. M Wilson 6pts8. M Ostberg 4pts9. P Solberg 2pts10. P-G Andersson 1pt
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Manufacturer standings1. BP Ford Abu Dhabi 40pts 2. Citroen Total 30pts 3. Citroen Junior 14pts 4. Stobart M-Sport Ford 14ptsClick here to view a video roundup from Sweden