BFGoodrich on World Rally Championship in Norway
Mikko Hirvonen sprang a surprise today by wining the WRC's newcomer, the Rally Norway. The youngster led from flag to flag, while fellow Finn Marcus GrÃ¶nholm was powerless against his teammate's superiority and contented himself with securing a maximum points haul for BP-Ford compared with a single point for rivals CitroÃ«n. The French team had a bleak weekend with SÃ©bastien Loeb (14th) and Dani Sordo (25th) both going off. Henning Solberg profited from the final day to steal 3rd place from his brother Petter and make it an all-Ford podium.
Few punters would have gambled on victory for Ford's Mikko Hirvonen this weekend in Norway, and even fewer would have predicted the way in which he dominated his illustrious team-mate. True, Mikko Hirvonen had previously tasted victory champagne in Australia last October, but this is his first win in a straight fight against former World Champions SÃ©bastien Loeb and Marcus GrÃ¶nholm; his maiden success was scored with the Frenchman absent and after the Finn had gone off early in the event.
This weekend, however, on an event that was new to all the favourites, Mikko pulled off a genuine feat. For the first time in seven years, Marcus GrÃ¶nholm was powerless on his favourite surface, snow. Also for the first time in ages, Loeb had trouble matching the pace of his Ford Focus WRC rivals, especially that of Mikko Hirvonen.
The Finnish youngster has taken his time coming to age at WRC level. His move to Subaru in 2004 was an uneasy moment in his career which was given a fresh start in 2005 driving a privately-entered Ford Focus WRC before being enlisted in the works Ford squad in 2006. Since then, he has come on slowly but surely and took his reputation to new heights this weekend.
Mikko took control on the long SS1 (30km), finishing 11.2 seconds clear of GrÃ¶nholm and 17s quicker than Loeb. He then consolidated his advantage on Friday afternoon by winning the second pass over the same test (SS3) to complete Day 1 clear of his team-mate and Loeb. "I woke up in great shape on Friday morning and decided to go for it. My choice of extra long stud g-Force Ice tyres for the first two stages was ideal but I was a little surprised to find myself on top. The next day, I knew that everyone intended to attack over the 4km of SS9, so I did too. On the freshly-fallen snow, my long stud g-Force Ice tyres did the job again, but the conditions were difficult and stayed that way all day." Hirvonen effectively founded his win on his performances over the weekend's snowiest stages, when grip levels were really at their lowest.
Powerless, Marcus GrÃ¶nholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) decided to settle for the silver medal and ensure a perfect Manufacturers' points crop for BP-Ford, while rivals CitroÃ«n left Norway with just one point after SÃ©bastien Loeb and Dani Sordo both lost ground with offs on Day 2.
Sunday's highlight was the thrilling scrap between Petter and Henning Solberg, as the Norwegians gave it all they had over their nation's icy lanes to claim bronze. Ford/BFGoodrich's Henning ended up getting the better over his brother Petter (Subaru/BFGoodrich) to make it an all-Ford podium. Jari-Matti Latvala (5th, Ford/BFGoodrich) could well have finished inside the top-three had he not taken a big time penalty early in the event following a steering problem.
RALLY NORWAY IN BRIEF...
2nd WRC win for Mikko Hirvonen, and the first in a straight fight against GrÃ¶nholm and Loeb
BP-Ford WRT harvests a total crop of 34 points from a possible 36 in Scandinavia
Henning Solberg eases past his brother Petter to steal 3rd place on the final day
After the decisive role of the 'normal' and 'long stud' g-Force Ice tyres in Sweden, the 'extra long stud' g-Force Ice starred in Norway
BP-Ford WRT - Good tyre choices for Hirvonen and GrÃ¶nholm who essentially went for the same stud options throughout, except on SS1/2: 'extra long stud'/8mm) for Mikko, 'long stud'/7mm) for Marcus.
CitroÃ«n-Total WRT - Loeb ran with 'extra long stud'/8mm g-Force Ice tyres on every loop except for SS3/4 ('normal stud'/6.5mm). The Frenchman never felt perfectly comfortable on this event.
Subaru WRT . Subaru's drivers nominated fewer 'extra long stud' tyres for Norway and were forced to use them sparingly. Solberg covered SS9/10 with the 'long stud'/7mm option, preferring to keep his 'extra long stud'/8mm tyres for SS11/12/13/14. He consequently had none left for Sunday morning's SS15/16/17.
Stobart M-Sport Ford WRT . Henning Solberg admitted making a 'stupid' choice when he went for the normal stud' option (6.5mm) on fresh snow. That, however, enabled him to have a stock of 'extra long stud'/8mm tyres for Sunday morning which saw him get the better of his brother.
OMV Kronos CitroÃ«n WRT . Manfred Stohl didn't have enough 'extra long stud' tyres and had to settle for the 'long stud' option on Saturday afternoon and the 'normal stud' option (6.5mm) on Sunday morning.
Mitsubishi . Toni Gardemeister frequently went against the grain with his choices, notably for SS1/2 ('normal stud'/6.5mm compared with 8mm for most of his opponents) and for SS3/4 ('long stud'/7mm compared with the 'normal stud' option for the others.)
Quotes from Norway.
Mikko Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich)
"I made a very good tyre choice early in the rally ('extra long stud'/8mm) and that enabled me to pull out a gap. I probably should have stayed with the extra long stud option on Friday afternoon, which was perhaps my only poor tyre call of the weekend (he was on long stud). On Saturday, the snow was too deep for the studs to bite effectively into the ice whichever studs you chose. There just wasn't any grip. Although the stages were twistier than in Sweden, I think this rally was easier on the studs because of the snow covering and because there were fewer repeated stages."
Matthieu Bonardel, BFGoodrich Rallies Manager
"After CitroÃ«n's domination on asphalt, Ford took revenge by winning both Scandinavian winter fixtures on ice and snow. How will it go on gravel? Mikko Hirvonen dominated in Norway and neither GrÃ¶nholm nor Loeb was able to match him. The Norwegian stages, especially Saturday's, gave less grip because of the deeper snow covering. The drivers' comments were similar to those we heard after the early stages in Sweden. On Sunday's packed snow, the drivers found normal grip levels again with their studded tyres. For Sweden and Norway, our partners used practically the full range of g-Force Ice tyres, from the 'normal stud'/6.5mm and the 'long stud'/7mm to the 'extra long stud'/8mm we saw in Norway. Tyre choice played a decisive role in Sweden but wasn't so critical this weekend. Given the compromise between performance and durability the drivers have to make when choosing stud lengths, it will be difficult to define a single tyre type for these winter events in the future when there will be just one tyre manufacturer. What stud length would you choose?"
18th Rally Norway, the first as a World Championship qualifying round
1,109.57km, including 355.99km in stages
Conditions: ice and snow, a layer of fresh snow about 10cm deep on the Saturday, packed snow on Sunday
Tyres used: g-Force Ice, three different stud options: 'normal stud'/6.5mm, 'long stud'/7mm, 'extra long stud'/8mm
1. Hirvonen-Lehtinen (Ford Focus WRC06), 3h28min17s
2. GrÃ¶nholm-Rautiainen (Ford Focus WRC06), + 9s5
3. H. Solberg-Menkerud (Ford Focus WRC06), + 3min44s6
4. P. Solberg-Mills (Subaru Impreza WRC2006), + 4min01s1
5. Latvala-Anttila (Ford Focus WRC06), + 5min30s7
6. Galli-Bernacchini (CitroÃ«n Xsara WRC), + 7min05s2
7. Carlsson-Giraudet (CitroÃ«n Xsara WRC), + 9min23s7
8. Kopecky-Schovanek (Skoda Fabia WRC), + 11min49s9, etc.
DRIVERS: 1, M. GrÃ¶nholm (24 points). 2, M. Hirvonen (20). 3, S. Loeb (18). 4, H. Solberg (11). 5, P. Solberg & D. Sordo (8). 7, C. Atkinson & D. Carlsson (6). Etc.
MANUFACTURERS: 1, BP-Ford WRT (44 points). 2, CitroÃ«n-Total WRT (28). 3, Stobart M Sport Ford (16). 4, Subaru WRT (15). 4, OMV Kronos CitroÃ«n (14).
Rally Mexico (March 9-11)
BFGoodrich WRC tyres: g-Force Gravel
Quota: 60 tyres/priority driver, of which 33 may be used
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