FOR FOUR MONTHS AND FOUR RALLIES, MIKKO HIRVONEN DOMINATED THE FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP AND LOOKED TO BE HEADING TOWARDS A MAIDEN TITLE TO HALT SÉBASTIEN LOEB’S EXTRAORDINARY RUN.
The Ford driver’s victory Down Under moved him five points clear of Loeb – don’t forget there were 10 points on offer for a win and eight for second in 2009 – going into the penultimate round of the series in Spain.
Hirvonen arrived in Australia in confident mood, having secured his maiden home win with a confident Rally Finland success, leading the Jyväskylä-based event from the moment it went into the woods. Prior to that, he won the Acropolis Rally and the following round in Poland.
As is often the case in Australia, the championship lead can be something of a poisoned chalice with Hirvonen losing time as he swept the New South Wales gravel aside aboard his Focus RS. He ran as low as sixth on the opening loop.
Fastest time on Saturday morning’s opener moved him into third and Hirvonen remained on the podium for the next two days, even leading for two stages late on day two.
Hirvonen landed a fourth straight win 10 years ago this week
But he couldn’t match Loeb’s Citroën C4 through the final day. Coming out of the last stage, the Frenchman was 12.5sec ahead and celebrating his first win since April’s Rally Argentina.
There was, however, something amiss with the C4. Post-event scrutineering revealed the car’s anti-roll bars failed to conform with the car’s homologation papers and Loeb was hit with a minute penalty.
Instead of having his lead cut to just a single point, Hirvonen was handed a fourth straight win and a five-point lead.
A decade ago this week, Hirvonen was at the very height of his power in the WRC, but not even four back-to-back wins were enough to halt the Loeb steamroller.
Citroën’s star recovered to win in Spain and Wales, leaving a devastated Hirvonen a single point short when it came to the final reckoning in Cardiff on October’s last Sunday in 2009.