Thursday, June 21, 2012

WRC: Hirvonen Leads Loeb By a Narrow Margin, While Ford’s Petter Solberg Struggles with Poor Tire Choice.

Mikko Hironen leads Brother Rally New Zealand at mid day Friday; Photo Citoren Racing
Auckland New Zealand; With the first four stages in the bag on the 2012 Brother Rally New Zealand, cars have returned for the first major service on day one.  Tires Tyres Tires is all the talk around the service park.  As always tire choice is critical, and there are always some that will gamble on their tire choice in hopes of changing conditions, on this day it was Ford and Petter Solberg that gambled, and lost, time that is, lots of it.
Ford opted to send Petter out on hard compound tires which left the Norwegian struggling with the conditions on the opening leg of the rally. Coming into service Petter and Irish co-driver Chris Patterson were down to seventh place, a minute and a half from the front. “It’s a long game, a long rally, we’re not concerned about it” commented Patterson.
Mikko Hirvonen held a narrow lead coming into service,  but it was tense battle right off the start line on  SS1 "Te Hutewai" 1.  Hirvonen lost time to Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala on the opening test, but it was short lived, with changing weather conditions; Hirvonen stormed back in the Citroen taking the stage victory on SS2 Whaanga.
Although Loeb was talking down his chances  for a win in New Zealand, one wouldn’t know it as he tore it up on SS3 "Te Akau South" 1, Loeb took the stage win and would again set the pace on SS4. In all Loeb took almost 8 seconds out of Hirvonen on SS3 and ss4, narrowing the gap to just 3.9 at the service halt, all in all a good morning for Citroen Racing.
Although Latvala is the top placeed Ford at this point, despite sitting in third he is already 16s off the front.  
The rest of the field is already a long way behind. M-Sport Ford duo Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tanak are closely matched in fourth and fifth, but both had been trailing Qatar Citroen's Thierry Neuville until the Belgian had a spin on stage three. 
Our men in the Monster World Rally Team, Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino are enjoying their opening stint in New Zealand. ‘The stages are just so amazing, I’m glad I was able to fit it into my schedule this year” said block.  Ken has been on pace with the likes of Manfred Stohl and Alistair MCRAE and was sitting 12th after four stages.

By Neil McDaid
Sources: Citroen Racing /