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2012-04-01 17:18

TEAM PHOTO: Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen (centre right) and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen celebrate their victory as they stand with mechanics around the Citroen DS3 WRC during the podium ceremony of the 2012 Portugal Rally in Faro.


Faro, Portugal - Finland's Mikko Hirvonen won the Rally of Portugal on Sunday to seize the World championship lead from Citroen team mate Sebastien Loeb.

(His success was shortlived - he was later disqualified.)

The victory, after all his main works team rivals had crashed out in tough conditions on the Algarve roads, was Hirvonen's first for the French manufacturer since moving from Ford at the end of 2011.


Norway's Mads Ostberg finished second, 1min51.8 behind, in a privately entered Ford while Russian Evgeny Novikov, also driving a Ford, took his first World Rally championship podium in third place.

Hirvonen (75 points) now leads Loeb, the eight-times champion who retired on the first day in Portugal after a crash, by nine points overall after four of 13 rounds.

"I'm relieved more than anything because this has been a very difficult rally," Hirvonen told the World Rally championship website. "The conditions were very tough so it's great to come through with no problems and win for Citroen.”

The Finn, who led from Friday, did not win a stage.

Ostberg and 21-year-old Novikov endured last-day dramas, the former's Ford running on three cylinders while the Russian's Fiesta had a throttle problem.


Novikov's co-driver Denis Giraudet became, at 56, the oldest co-driver to stand on the World Rally championship podium.

Norwegian Petter Solberg finished fourth, 22sec off a podium place, after sliding into a ditch while leading on Friday and returning with a 10-minute time penalty on Saturday.

Organisers cancelled half of Friday's stages after heavy rain left the muddy roads churned up and treacherous.

"The weekend was a big, big adventure," said Solberg, third overall with 59 points to Loeb's 66. "To finish fourth after everything that happened is a fantastic feeling."

Qatar's Nasser Al-Attiyah was fifth in a Citroen.

Provisional result of the 2012 Rally of Portugal
1 Mikko Hirvonen (Finland) Citroen 4hr19min24.3
2 Mads Ostberg (Norway) Ford +1min51.8
3 Evgeny Novikov (Russia) Ford +3min25.0
4 Petter Solberg (Norway) Ford +3min47.4
5 Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qatar) Citroen +7min57.6
6 Martin Prokop (Czech Republic) Ford +8min01.0
7 Dennis Kuipers (Netherlands) Ford +8min39.1
8 Sebastien Ogier (France) Skoda +9min00.8
9 Thierry Neuville (Belgium) Citroen +10:min29.7
10 Jari Ketomaa (Finland) Ford +11:min44.6

Full report later.


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