Hirvonen well pleased with second spot in Monte Carlo Rally
Mikko Hirvonen, in his first season as the No.1 driver for the Ford World Rally Championship team, was well pleased with his final position as runner-up to reigning world champion Sebastien Loeb in the year's first event, the Monte Carlo Rally.
Loeb is a known specialist on asphalt, and was fully expected to clock up a record fifth win in this competition, and so basically Hirvonen's task was all about damage limitation and scoring as many points as possible.
Following the engine trouble that blighted the chances of Loeb's Citroen teammate Daniel Sordo on Saturday, second place was the best possible outcome for Hirvonen, who collected eight points to Loeb's ten. At the time when he hit problems, Sordo had been over half a minute ahead of the Finn, so the extra two points were a welcome bonus.
The only slight cause for concern was the sizeable time-gap between the winner and the runner-up: Loeb cruised home over two and half minutes ahead, and was quicker by far than the opposition on wet surfaces.
The other two Finnish entries in the race had a less fortunate start to the season.
Jari-Matti Latvala in the other works-entered Ford lost several minutes on the opening day after hitting a rock and having to change a wheel, and he had a further accident on Saturday that effectively scotched his chances of scoring any points.
He eventually finished in 12th place, and can take some comfort from the fact that he was among the fastest drivers on the road on the closing Sunday.
Suzuki's Toni Gardemeister was forced to retire from the race on Saturday night with engine problems.
The Monte Carlo Rally marked a new chapter for Mikko Hirvonen, as he takes on the mantle of the Ford lead driver following the retirement last season of two-time WRC champion Marcus Grönholm.
Hirvonen will be expected to step up and try to mount a challenge to his French rival Loeb, and an opportunity to reverse the placings will come in two weeks' time, with the Swedish Rally.
This is one of the WRC events that Hirvonen intends to win, and indeed it is one of the rallies that he must win in order to have a realistic chance of preventing Loeb from notching up a fifth successive title.
World Rally Championship
Mikko Hirvonen (WRC)