Hirvonen leads Ford sweep


KARLSTAD, February 13 – Finland's Mikko Hirvonen powered his Ford Fiesta to victory in the Rally of Sweden on Sunday, the opening event in the World Rally Championship.

Norwegian Mads Ostberg at 6.5 seconds and Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala at 34s finished in second and third respectively to secure a podium sweep for Ford.

The 30-year-old Hirvonen was repeating his 2010 win in the only rally on the calendar staged entirely on snow.

This was the 13th WRC win for the driver who has twice finished runner-up to Sebastien Loeb in the title race, in 2008 and 2009.

"This is fantastic, it’s really great to win the first rally of the season in the new Fiesta," he said.

"I have to say I was very nervous at the start of the last special but now I’m so happy to have made a good start to this season. It’s a relief because I had a difficult 2010."

He secured the win by posting the fastest times in Sunday’s first three specials, with his teammate Latvala taking stages 20 and 21 to ensure second place.

Runner-up Ostberg said: "This is a new beginning after five truly difficult years. This is the reward for lots of hard work."

Seven time world champion Loeb had a weekend to forget, coming in sixth after trouble with his starting motor on his Citroen DS3. His teammate Sebastien Ogier came in fourth after lifting the rally’s 22nd and final 4km ‘power stage’.

The Frenchman commented: "I’m glad it’s over and I’ve managed to pick up a few points, so it’s better than nothing."

Former WRC champion Petter Solberg suffered an embarrassing end to his time in Sweden when he had his driving licence confiscated by the police for speeding on Friday evening.

As a result his privately entered Citroen had to be driven by his co-driver Chris Patterson in the final stage.