Second-fastest time for Mikko Hirvonen

Rally Sweden got underway this morning with the shakedown, including the first ever qualifying stage in the history of the WRC. Mikko Hirvonen was Citroën’s highest placed driver, after finishing second.

Intended to enable drivers to choose their starting positions on day one, the qualifying stage was run on a four-kilometre section located a few hundred metres from the Hagfors service park. After two free practice runs, the crews completed a timed run to establish this initial pecking order.

Second-placed Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen will have almost total freedom when it comes to choosing their starting position. The drivers will reveal their preferred positions this evening during a special ceremony organised at 7.10pm, just before the first special stage is run at Karlstad racecourse.

“The aim wasn’t necessarily to set the best time, but to make sure of being in the top five so that you can choose a good position,” specified the Finn. “We have talked a lot about the various options in the team. The only certainty is that we must not go first so that we avoid clearing the layer of freshly-fallen snow. I’ll choose my position depending on what Jari-Matti decides, as he set the best time.”

“We saw during the two free practice runs that the times were very close. I didn’t push too hard as I didn’t want to risk making a mistake before actually starting the rally,” added Sébastien Loeb. “Setting the sixth-best time is fine with me, as I will be able to make my decision after seeing which positions my rivals have chosen.”

“It won’t be easy to choose the right position, as the road conditions on day one are very varied. The stages in Norway are generally run on snow-covered roads, but there will be some sections over frozen gravel, some on sheer ice and some on freshly-fallen snow covering the gravel. I think the organisers have also planned to drive a snowplough over some sections, so it is very difficult to predict exactly what conditions will be like tomorrow.”

Alongside Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen, Nasser Al-Attiyah couldn’t contain his excitement at joining Citroën Racing: “I want to take it easy on this rally, which I feel is the most difficult of the season. I have to learn about the car and build a relationship with the team. Progress will come later at gravel rallies such as Mexico, which is more my natural surface. This weekend, I am just aiming to make it to the end and finish in the top 8 if possible.”

Qualifying Stage

  1. Jari-Matti Latvala 1:53.516
  2. Mikko Hirvonen 1:54.084
  3. Ott Tanak 1:54.089
  4. Evgeny Novikov 1:54.131
  5. Petter Solberg 1:54.384
  6. Sébastien Loeb 1:54.727
  7. Mads Ostberg 1:54.877
  8. Eyvind Brynildsen 1:55.729
  9. Patrik Sandell 1:56.137
  10. Martin Prokop 1:56.723
  11. Dani Sordo 1:56.724
  12. Henning Solberg 1:56.758
  13. Jari Ketomaa 1:57.374
  14. Armindo Araujo 1:59.544
  15. Nasser Al-Attiyah 1:59.724
  16. Thierry Neuville 2:04.767