Hirvonen takes Portugal lead

2012-03-30 16:57

Faro - Citroen's new recruit Mikko Hirvonen inherited the lead in the Rally of Portugal on Friday after Ford duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg spun off in treacherous conditions.

After the second day's first three special stages Hirvonen improved from his third place overnight to top the overall standings.

The Finn's closest pursuer is Russia's Evgeny Novikov who is over 36 seconds back with Norwegian Mads Ostberg (41s) in third.

Overnight leader Latvala left the road and ended up in a ditch towards the end of the fifth stage with former world champion Solberg, who had briefly held the lead, suffering the same fate in the sixth stage.

Friday's opening three specials were all claimed by Mini driver Daniel Sordo who said after the day's fog, mud and rain-hit third special: "It was really, really difficult conditions, more difficult than the other stages. It was impossible to see the road."

Hirvonen told "I'm sure these are the most difficult conditions I've been driving. In some places I can't see 10 metres but you're supposed to be going flat out. I don't like these conditions."

Thursday's opening day had already spelled disaster for eight-time world champion Sebastien Loeb.

The French ace's rally ended abruptly when in a miscommunication he turned left at a righthand bend, spelling the premature end of his hopes of victory with his Citroen DS3 too damaged to restart.

Reflecting on the circumstances behind his rare lapse, Loeb said: "During this night special the visibility wasn't the best. We arrived at the top of a hill with a blind bend ahead.

"The road went to the right, I went left, it was down to a misunderstanding of the note.

"It was nothing to do with going too fast or braking too late or that I entered the turn too quickly."

Loeb has established a winning partnership with his co-driver Daniel Elena dating back 15 years and he observed: "I think this is the first time there's been a misunderstanding in the reading of a note. We just didn't undertsand each other.

"My first reaction was to give out to Daniel, there has to be a guilty party!" he added laughing.