Hirvonen battles at the top

Hirvonen battles at the topFrom M-Sport [ 12/09/2014 ].
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M-Sport World Rally Team's Mikko Hirvonen is battling for the top positions at Rally Australia with just 7.9 seconds separating the leading five drivers going into tomorrow's penultimate day.

Tackling eight stages in the vicinity of Coffs Harbour, the crews first travelled south for two loops of three technically challenging stages through the region's award-winning forests before heading back to base for two passes of the spectator-friendly super special.

Having always performed well behind the wheel of a Ford down under, it was business as usual for Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen. The pairing found a good rhythm early on and continued in that same vein throughout the day - regularly posting top-three times.

Feeling at one with the tricky nature of the stages, the Finn is well and truly in the fight for the podium - the number five Ford Fiesta RS WRC just a handful of seconds adrift of the lead in fifth place overall.

There was a less steady transition back to gravel for Elfyn Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt. Having never contested Rally Australia, the Welshman was determined to gain the experience that will prove vital to his future success and wasn't going to let a lack of confidence through the opening speed tests impede his future ambitions.

Having stalled his Fiesta RS WRC on the first pass of Bellingen (SS2), the youngster lost confidence as well as time. Regrouping for the afternoon, he increased his pace but remains resolute on improving both his position and his performance as the event continues.

Mikko Hirvonen (5th) said:

"It's really close between the top five at the moment, and that's great! It's been a good day for us and we're right in the battle. Everything has been working well and I'm really happy with the car.

"Unfortunately we couldn't do anything to keep Sebastian [Ogier] and Jari-Matti [Latvala] behind us, but they're not so far ahead and hopefully we can have another good day and continue to fight for the podium positions tomorrow."

Elfyn Evans (9th) said:

"This afternoon started much better, but we got stuck in this morning's rhythm again for the last long one [SS6]. We're feeling okay at the start of every stage, but we're just lacking the rhythm as it goes on.

"I think the character of tomorrow's stages will suit us better. Today was very technical and narrow amongst the trees, but tomorrow is a lot wider and more open. It's so hard to take confidence from stages like this when you're experiencing them for the first time. I find myself braking far too early and then that knocks you out of sync for the rest of the stage.

"Yes, it's a little frustrating at the moment, but we're doing what we came here to do. We're staying out of trouble, gaining the experience, and hopefully we can improve and regain some confidence tomorrow."

Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:

"It's great to have been in the battle for the lead today. Mikko [Hirvonen] has put in a really strong performance and there remains all to play for as he chases down the top positions tomorrow.

"It's fair to say that Elfyn [Evans] has found it fairly challenging, but he's here to learn and he's done a solid job on his first encounter with these difficult stages. Although he might have been frustrated at times, he's gaining the experience that will be so valuable to him in the future."