BP-Ford Abu Dhabi Retain Championship Leads After Epic Rally Finland
Valiant Hirvonen takes 2nd to stay one point ahead of Loeb
Al Qassimi Finishes in Impressive 11th After Solid Display

Jyväskylä, Finland. 3rd August 2008: In one of the most fiercely contested battles of the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship season, BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen didn’t have enough on his final day to claim his maiden Rally Finland victory.

Citroen’s six-time WRC title winner, Sébastien Loeb – now one of only a handful of non-Finns to win the event in its 57 year history – eventually held off the surging Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority-backed Hirvonen to cut the Finns’ championship lead to a single point.

The result means that BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team retains its lead in the manufacturers’ championship. Hirvonen’s eight points for finishing second means the UAE-capital-supported outfit heads to the next WRC round in Germany armed with a three-point cushion over rivals Citroen.

Having started the day 18.2sec apart, Hirvonen needed to pull out all the stops on the final three stages of Sunday to have any chance of catching Loeb and claiming victory. And after trading fastest bragging rights with the Frenchman throughout the weekend, the dynamic Hirvonen didn’t disappoint.

On stage 23, Hirvonen recorded the exact same time as his arch-rival, before a solid run on the penultimate 10.92km Hannula stage saw him reduce the deficit to 11.8sec.

And despite a strong showing on the short, final Ruuhimaki stage, bringing him to within 9.9secs of Loeb after 340 kilometres of relentless, high speed competition, Hirvonen ran out of road and – after finishing second last year – again narrowly missed out on an elusive Finland win.

Elsewhere, Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi had a rollercoaster weekend as he marked his one year WRC anniversary with the ADTA-sponsored team with an impressive 11th place finish.

After spinning out on day two, then recording the longest jump of the event with a breathtaking 55m leap, Al Qassimi narrowly missed out on a second top ten finish of the season. However, the Emirati remained upbeat about his performance as he readies for Rally Germany in 10 days time.

Rising star, Jari-Matti Latvala, finished 39th after a first day accident ended their chances of victory. After breaking a steering arm against a large rock and crashing off the road, the 23-year-old Finnish driver retired from the day, returning to the action yesterday under SupeRally rules with a 45 minute penalty. He concentrated on rebuilding his speed and confidence and went on to claim four stage wins.

Finland is regarded as rallying's home and is one of the most specialised events of the season. Famous for its wide, hard roads and stomach-churning jumps, this year's rally also included several narrower sections to test the drivers. Precision driving and bravery are more important here than anywhere else as the fast roads offer little room for error. Such was the pace that the fierce battle for victory left third-placed Chris Atkinson more than 3min 15sec adrift.

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi

“The event on the whole was really good and I was extremely happy with how everything went. We were cautious in some places and then had to lift the pace in other areas, because that’s how you have to be here. It is all about balance. We had a couple of moments and it could have gone either way for us. This is a very competitive event and everyone is fighting for those precious seconds. To clock up an 11th place finish, especially as I have limited experience in this region, is great.

“Germany is a tarmac event and it has been quite a while since I competed on that surface. It will be interesting; you have to change your driving style considerably, as it requires a different set of lines and approaches, so we will see how it goes.”

Mikko Hirvonen
“I'm pleased with my driving but I came here to win and Loeb found a few seconds more. We played cat and mouse all weekend and when I won a stage, he usually won the next. For there to be only nine seconds between us after all this crazy driving is amazing. I lost the time by not being brave enough in the narrow sections. It'll be difficult but we must now fight for the win on every round.

"It was a fantastic rally and an amazing fight and it's unfortunate I didn't win in front of my home fans. I pushed right to the end but it wasn't enough. I'm pleased to still lead the championship but one point isn't much. The speed was crazy. Sometimes we could have thrown our pace notes away and just gone for it and I've learned that I could have made my notes quicker.

“I wanted to win here, but it was still a fantastic event. The championship fight is not over, but of course all the rallies coming up are more important now. It’s not over yet!”

Jari-Matti Latvala
"The rally didn't go as I expected unfortunately and I didn't achieve what I wanted, which was a podium. I feel quite empty. It ended for me on Friday morning and that was all due to an error I made on the recce when I didn't mark a rock in my pace notes. At least I got my confidence, rhythm and speed back and drove the new stages, which is good for future efforts. It was difficult to be motivated but the best medicine after an accident is to get back behind the wheel. I know the speed is there so I hope that next year I'll have the chance to fight for a win here.”

Final Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena 2h54m05.5s
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +9.0s
3. C Atkinson/S Prevot +3m17.0s
4. D Sordo/M Marti +3m30.9s
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud +3m57.7s
6. P Solberg/P Mills +4m04.1s
7. M Rantanen/J Löengren +6m11.1s
8. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen +8m18.7s

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