You have to feel for Mikko Hirvonen. The Finn has acquitted himself admirably since he signed on the Citroen dotted line (a stage win here and there and two podium finishes confirming this), and yet staying on terms with his new-teammate – and former World Rally Championship rival – Sebastien Loeb was inevitably going to prove difficult. That, plus his old outfit’s resurgent performance since the two parted company at the end of last year: indeed, former team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala has already recorded a victory for Ford this season in Sweden.
Come the end of a tumultuous Rally Portugal though, it was Hirvonen who had got the jump on his Championship rivals. His illustrious team-mate was long gone, having plowed off the road and irreparably damaged his roll cage just three stages into the event. Remarkably, just four stages later, heavy rain had caused Ford’s boys to squander this golden opportunity by throwing their respective Fiestas at the Algarve undergrowth too.
Latvala’s third incident in four rallies saw him lose a 3s lead, while a gripless Petter Solberg slid out of a 25s lead later that same afternoon. Beached just 2km from the checkpoint, the Norwegian gestured frantically at nearby spectators for help, though the local constabulary had other ideas. Both Latvala and Solberg would eventually re-enter the event under Rally 2 regulations, but ongoing fuel pressure issues hampering Latvala’s running meant it was 9th-placed Solberg who headed Ford’s charge.
A man now possessed, the Norwegian was eating minutes out of Hirvonen’s inherited lead with every passing stage win, and was already into the top four when power steering gremlins faltered his charge. He would climb no higher, while the crippled Latvala had to settle for 14th. Hirvonen’s first WRC victory for Citroen was his for the taking.