Day Two of the WRC Acropolis Rally 2009 saw dramatic exits and Mikko Hirvonen putting in a mistake-free performance to take a sizable lead into the final day with teammate Jari-Matti Latvala lying in third place overall.
“It was an incredible, but perfect, day for me," said Hirvonen. "I made no mistakes and drove fast enough to lead and cautiously enough not to damage the car.
"My lead is good, but I must remember that this is Greece, conditions are rough, and to take it steady tomorrow," he continued.
"I looked after my tires and didn't hit any rocks. I'm surprised so many people made mistakes, but it shows things go wrong under pressure, especially on technical stages like these.
"I never drove at maximum speed, it was a controlled drive and that paid off.
"Tomorrow's roads are easier than today but there will still be a lot of rocks to avoid. It's good to have such a strong lead because that gives me the time to drive around the rocks, and if I lose a few seconds here and there it doesn’t matter.”
Citroen suffered their worst day of the year, and the BP Ford Abu Dhabi was quick to take advantage. The seemingly indestructible Sebastien Loeb crashed out on the first stage, and teammate Dani Sordo hit a rock, which ended his day on SS9.
This marks consecutive rallies where the five-time World Rally Champion will miss out on the podium after notching five straight wins to start the season.
Loeb was fairly calm after rolling his Citroen over half a dozen times.
“We were on a very fast part of the stage, on a plateau," Loeb said. "There was a right-hand corner, that I perhaps took a little too quickly. I was off-line for the left-hander that followed and I hit a big rock at the apex.
"The front wheel was ripped off and it sent us into a series of barrel rolls. The car is too badly damaged for the team to repair it in time for the final day. In any case, the C4 WRC showed how tough a car it is because we don’t have a single scratch on us after a pretty dramatic crash.
"Clearly, it’s not a good result in terms of the championships because it will cost us a large portion of our points advantage. But whatever happens, we’ll still be in the lead tomorrow evening, and that’s the main thing.”
With the two senior drivers out of contention the Citroen Junior Team drivers Sebastien Ogier, Evgeny Novikov, and Conrad Rautenbach have defended the French team’s honor in the typically tough conditions of the Acropolis Rally.
They enter the final day in second, fourth, and fifth place respectively.
Petter Solberg looked set to grab another podium finish, but his Xsara suffered a suspension failure on SS11, which cost him valuable time and dropped him out of the top-10.
"I was attacking. We hit a rock and destroyed the left front top mount," said the privateer owner/driver, Solberg. "The bumper popped out of the bonnet. We tried to fix it before the stage start and it worked for a little bit and then it broke again. Very were very unlucky.
“It’s not giving up—it’s just that there’s too much damage. The sump guard was hitting the ground for a long time and that’s bent a shaft inside the gearbox and damaged a chassis leg.
"We might have been able to repair it, but I have only one car. If we carry on tomorrow we might get seventh or eighth, but we might not be able to start Poland.
"It has been a good rally, and I must say the car worked very well. On Shakedown I was disappointed—I couldn’t get within two seconds of anybody—but on the rally it was different.
"I was thinking about changing cars later in the year, but I’ve got more faith in this one now.”
Munchi's Ford driver Federico Villagra is sixth in their Focus RS WRC after a trouble-free day.
Stobart Ford’s Henning Solberg had to retire his Focus RS WRC from fifth after hitting a large rock and breaking the car's front right suspension.
Leaderboard, Day Two
1. Hirvonen/Lehtinen Ford Focus 3h07’33’’0
2. Ogier/Ingrassia Citroën C4 +1’40’’1
3. Latvala/Antilla Ford Focus +2’44’’2
4. Novikov/Moscatt Citroën C4 +3’49’’8
5. Rautenbach/Barritt Citroën C4 +4’01’’9
6. Villagra/Diaz Ford Focus + 4’03’’1
7. Al Qassimi/Orr Ford Focus +6’09’’4
8. Solberg/Mills Citroën Xsara +10’12’’1
9. Al Attiyah/Bernacchini Subaru Impreza +11’04’’6
10. Athanassoulas/Zakheos Skoda Fabia +11’13’’4