Sure it feels nice to be in the lead, but when this lead is measured in handful of seconds and you’re being chased by supercharged Ott Tanak and whoknowswhatcharged Sebastien Ogier, you must keep both feet firmly on the ground. Which, I’m sure, is what Mikko Hirvonen repeated at least 10 times this evening, talking to journalists. Mikko had this kind of pace in Mexico too, but it wasn’t meant to be as a mechanical glitch denied him a chance to fight for the podium positions or even overall victory. In Portugal Mikko is on the pace once again, but he is also on the lookout for all those things, mistakes, scenery and pacenote bugs which took other drivers out. Mikko smiled after today’s stages, but his eyes remained focused and serious – his job here is far from over.
Mikko Hirvonen (1st) said:
“It’s been a really enjoyable day with a great fight at the front; to be leading at the end of it, it’s a really good feeling. It’s not been an easy day by all means, but everything has been working well and I think that the times and the position that we find ourselves in now is proof of that.
“We opted for the soft tyres for the afternoon, and on the long stage [SS7] I think it probably did help us. When I left service, I was sure we had made the right choice, but after the first stage [of the afternoon, SS5] I was a little nervous. It was a tricky one to get right, but I think we managed it well.
“There are still two difficult days to go, and I am sure that Sebastien [Ogier] and Ott [Tänak] will not give up without a fight, but neither will we!”
Elfyn Evans (63rd) said:
“It was in a very fast section of SS4. Basically we just misjudged our braking into a corner. We were carrying too much speed and ran wide on the outside.
“This stage was actually one of the better in terms of conditions during the recce. It was just very compact and a little damp under the trees into the corner. That, combined with the late braking on my part and my assuming that there was perhaps a little more grip than reality was the reason for the mistake.
“Of course it’s disappointing because I was really pleased with the progress we were making up until that point. This is still a development year for us, so we’ll come back tomorrow and try to pick up where we left off. There are a lot of really tricky stages on the cards so it’s likely that we’ll use the first pass to find our way, but we’ll still be aiming to reduce that gap to the leaders.”