Mikko Hirvonen took an early lead in the Rally of Portugal by winning this evening's Algarve Stadium superspecial.
The works Ford driver edged out Munchi's Ford's Federico Villagra – who had looked set to give his team the lead of a World Rally Championship for the first time after a superb time on his run – by 0.1sec right at the end of the night. Having drifted away from arch-rival Sebastien Loeb in the championship since winning the season opener in Sweden, Hirvonen hoped that this superspecial win would bode well for the rest of the weekend.
"It's really nice to win a stage like this," said Hirvonen. "It's a good start, but tomorrow is a different day. I'm going to take it easy and steady, with no panic, and see how it goes."
Behind star performer Villagra, Petter Solberg was third in his self-run Citroen, followed by the factory C4 of Dani Sordo.
Citroen number one Loeb took a more cautious approach to the short asphalt stage and was back in eighth – but only 1.5sec down on Hirvonen. Similarly, while the Finn's Ford teammate Jari-Matti Latvala was down in 11th having admitted his run was less than perfect, he still starts tomorrow's full-length stages within 2.3sec of the rally lead.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 2m09.3s
2. Federico Villagra Ford + 0.1s
3. Petter Solberg Citroen + 0.7s
4. Dani Sordo Citroen + 0.8s
5. Henning Solberg Ford + 0.9s
6. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 1.0s
7. Matthew Wilson Ford + 1.2s
8. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 1.5s
9. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen + 1.7s
10. Ken Block Ford + 1.7s