Tough rally, this one. Full of tricky traps and deceptive sections, but it seems trouble will find you even if you try really hard to avoid it. You only need to be named Mikko Hirvonen (or Jari-Matti Latvala in this case it seems). All was going well for Mikko, he was doing the job he set out to do and after Kris Meeke retired from the event on day 2, Mikko was the only remaining Citroën in the fight for the podium positions. Then, more than a few kilometers before the end of the final stage of the event Mikko picked up a puncture, for no reason at all. He claims to be driving on the middle of the road and not pushing at all. Furthermore, he claims puncture happened on a straight section of the road. Similar thing happened to Jari-Matti Latvala and in similar section, while Thierry Neuville managed to escape and issues.
What caused Mikko’s puncture remains to be seen, perhaps it was freak coincidence, perhaps someone forgot to pick some nails from the road, but he did a good job of keeping the car on the move in an effort to salvage what was left of his rally. Instead of finishing second Hirvonen came home in third.
For Kris Meeke Australia was just another display of talent and speed although with double DNFs, even retiring from rally2 in Australia, are not doing him any favours.
Below is Citroën’s official Rally Australia report.
MIKKO SALVAGES PODIUM SPOT
2013030902Second just a few kilometres from the end, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished Rally Australia third overall after picking up an inexplicable puncture at the death.
Despite the high stakes, the final leg of Rally Australia did not look like it would provide for especially exciting racing, given the clear gaps between the frontrunners. The day’s three stages – all very fast – were run twice and the second pass on Shipmans (SS22) served as the Power Stage.
At the end of Bucca 1 (SS17), Mikko Hirvonen was pleased to have begun the day by setting the fastest time. The Finn thus ended the series of stage wins racked up by Sébastien Ogier. “It’s always nice to be the fastest, but no-one is really pushing that hard this morning,” played down the Citroën driver. “We’re all checking the split times of the others whilst we’re driving. Everything is good with the car; we want to make sure of this second place.”
After going off the road on day two, Kris Meeke rejoined the rally this morning. In accordance with the Rally2 regulations, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s eight mechanics had rebuilt his DS3 WRC in less than three hours. First on the road, the Northern Irishman took no risks during the morning. “It was something special to see my car repaired in parc fermé. The team did an incredible job and everything is working perfectly again. It’s very difficult to carve out the line for the other guys; I don’t think there’s another rally where road position is so important. I can’t go for any really fast times, but I’m just pleased to be back behind the wheel.”
The race progressed quietly until the Power Stage, which had the possibility of deciding the outcome of the drivers’ world championship. Although Kris Meeke made it across the finishing line, his car only had three wheels left. The British driver was once again forced to retire and was therefore not classified in the overall standings. His misfortune triggered a series of incidents that didn’t work out very well for the Citroën camp.
Half-way through the stage, Mikko Hirvonen was forced to slow down after picking up a puncture. The Finn conceded almost a minute, losing second place in the process to Thierry Neuville! “It’s just unbelievable. I wasn’t taking any risks, because the bonus points from the Power Stage don’t count towards the Manufacturers’ standings. I was driving in the middle of the road, without pushing. I really cannot say where the puncture came from, especially as the tyre blew up on a long straight section. I can’t seem to shake off my run of bad luck this season,” said a rather disheartened Finn at the stop control.
Whilst sharing the sense of disappointment with the rest of the Citroën Racing team, Khalid Al-Qassimi assessed his own race, in which he finished ninth overall: “It was another difficult day, especially because of the sweeping. I felt there was more progression on the stages today, insofar as I managed to differentiate between the points at which I could push and those where I had to manage my pace in order not to make any mistakes. I enjoyed driving the car.”