BP-Ford ABU Dhabi Stage Dramatic Greek Recovery
Hirvonen on the podium as Latvala rallies to finish seventh, 12th placed Al Qassimi just misses out on top ten

Tatoi, Athens. 1st June, 2008: After a weekend of carnage on Acropolis Rally of Greece’s rock-strewn roads, the BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team finally had reason to celebrate at the end of what’s been a rollercoaster seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority-back outfit’s lead driver, Mikko Hirvonen – starting the day in fourth in the UAE capital branded Focus RS World Rally Car – took advantage of two mistakes by Stobart’s Henning Solberg to secure third place, and six vital points in his championship battle with Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb - who displayed all his experience to rack up his 41st WRC career victory.

Loeb now moves back in front of Hirvonen in the driver’s standings by a single point ahead of the Rally of Turkey in two weeks time – the final event before the series halts for a summer break.

Hirvonen’s team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala, rallied to finish seventh – fifth in the eligible manufacturers’ drivers’ standings – and secured four vital points. The ten point haul for BP-Ford Abu Dhabi’s Finnish duo means the team retains a two point manufacturers’ standings lead over Citroen.

With two loops of the Avlonas, Assopia and Aghia Sotira stages north and west of Athens and a second pass over the 4.60km super special stage at Tatoi – a total of 102.32 competitive kilometers - comprising the final day's action, no-one in the Greece service park was predicting the final results, such has been the constant to-ing and fro-ing, as the WRC’s men and machines battled the brutal Acropolis tracks.

And unpredictability reigned again, the final day throwing up unparalleled drama from the first stage to the last.

With no breeze to clear away the dust hanging between the Grecian trees, Hirvonen stuck to his safety-first strategy and unexpectedly reaped the rewards as Solberg suffered daylong engine problems after sliding into trees on Aghia Sotira1.

Latvala ended yesterday's second leg in eighth - the 23-year-old apparently marooned with big time gaps both in front and behind. He was second through Avlonas1, won Assopia1 and ended the first loop with second in Aghia Sotira1 to retain eighth.

However, after the half day service, the young Finn was fastest through all three afternoon re-runs (and the super special) to finish seventh overall – a quite stunning display of speed from the WRC’s brightest young talent.

The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, driving the team’s third car, carried on where he left off in day two. The UAE capital’s WRC ambassador - in his first full year with BP-Ford Abu Dhabi as part of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority’s partnership with the twice consecutive manufacturers’ champions – posted some rapid stage times as he continues to improve with every rally.

Al Qassimi just missed out on a second top ten finish in three rounds, eventually crossing the Acropolis Rally of Greece finish line in 12th place. With the Emirati not competing in Turkey, he can now look forward to seven weeks off, and after his excursions this weekend - in what he’s described as his ‘toughest’ WRC event to date – he’ll need every minute on offer.

Driver Quotes
Mikko Hirvonen
"That was the hardest rally I've ever driven," said Hirvonen. "It was so rough and we had so many troubles that third is a great result. I've lost the championship lead but that will give me the advantage of a better start position on the next round in Turkey so it's still looking good. I saw that Henning had a problem this morning so I pushed hard. I didn't wake up this morning thinking about third, I just wanted to find good speed and secure fourth place points because I thought the time gap was too big.

"It's a nice surprise to be on the podium. It would have been difficult to beat Sébastien here but without our problems it would have been a good fight. Our emotions have been up and down and I thought we would be a long way behind Seb in the championship but it's only one point," he added.

Jari-Matti Latvala
"When it was rocky I eased off, and when it was smooth I pushed hard," said Latvala.

"I was trying to build my confidence for the next round in Turkey, because that's a rally where I don't have much experience. I had a good morning and a good afternoon as well – it was important for me to post some fast times and I did that today

"Without my collision with the bedded rock at the end of stage seven on day one, and my turbo boost failure in stages in 11 to 13 yesterday, this rally could have been so different. I’m still young and I think I have shown again that I have the pace to compete at this level, I just need a bit more luck with certain things,” he added.

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi
“I didn’t push as hard as I wanted to because it was so rough out there. I was trying to hold nice straight lines and up my pace in the fast sections but in the narrow twisty areas I had to hold back – I think everyone did,” said Al Qassimi.

“My launch control didn’t activate at the start of stage 15 and I lost some time but it has been a pretty satisfactory rally. I was in two minds whether to go for the top ten or settle for what I had, which should have been a minimum of 12th and that’s what it has turned out to be.

“This has been one of the hardest rallied I have ever driven – it has been a constant battle to push for pace and protect the car. Getting the balance right has been a challenge to the entire field and despite my many problems I’ve finished above some high-profile drivers so I have to take solace from that.

“I’ve got a few weeks off now before Finland, which is where it all started for me and Abu Dhabi in the WRC. It’s going to be a very important rally for me and everyone associated with Abu Dhabi’s rally programme – my role as a driver is only one aspect of a long-term strategy to raise the international profile of UAE capital through the sport.

“Now I’m ready to step up a level, starting with Finland. I have been there before but I’ll still be asking my team-mates Mikko and Jari-Matti to give me a few pointers,” he added.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director, Malcolm Wilson
"We have to accept that we have some issues that we need to address. From a drivers' point of view experience counted for a lot here."

Mark Deans, Ford of Europe's motorsport director
"Rallies rarely come tougher than this and I'm delighted we brought all three cars to the finish after a roller-coaster weekend. A podium was a reward for our perseverance, especially for our mechanics who worked so hard to keep the cars going."

ADTA Quote
Ahmed Hussein
“Acropolis Rally of Greece has bared its teeth this weekend – it has been an incredibly punishing rally for all the teams, and after BP-Ford Abu Dhabi’s relentless catalogue of problems it is fantastic to have retained our manufacturers’ standings lead, have Mikko on the podium and see Sheikh Khalid just outside the top ten again,” said Ahmed Hussein, Deputy Director General, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.

“To come through such an incident-packed weekend with such positive results stands the team in good stead ahead of round eight in Turkey.”

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