Flying Finns win Rally Australia
MIKKO Hirvonen made it a hat-trick of World Rally Championship victories here in Australia, claiming podium honours to the backdrop of the Coffs coastline.
Gifted the win by fellow Finn and Ford teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, who eased off the pace in the Clarence Valley, Hirvonen enjoyed a champagne spray by the ocean with co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen.
"Australia has really been kind to me, this time round I have to say a big thankyou to my team and also to Jari-Matti for slowing down," Hirvonen said in his acceptance speech.
Adding the win to victories in Rally Australia in 2006 and 2009, Hirvonen scored his first victory in the WRC since his triumph in Rally Sweden in February to end Citroen's success.
Team-mate Latvala commented on the difficulty the drivers faced over the Coffs Coast stages.
He won a total of nine stages to finish 14.7 seconds behind Hirvonen.
"It's been one tough rally, really tough," Latvala said.
"I think I need to come back here again and win this rally in two years time."
Third place-getter Norwegian privateer Petter Solberg marked his second podium finish of the year.
"I'm very happy because I've been waiting a long time for that," he said.
A highlight from the podium presentation came with Kiwi Hayden Paddon claiming the provisional Production Car world championship after he took honours in the classification at Rally Australia.
Paddon, who started the event in the knowledge that 25 points would put the title beyond the reach of his rivals, adopted a cautious approach on the final morning to clinch the crown in his Subaru Impreza.
Martin Semerad, who didn't nominate the Southern Hemisphere event as one of his scoring rounds, can still draw level with Paddon by winning the final two events of the season.
However, the Czech would still lose the title on count-back.
"We tried to push on the first stage today but I guess I was a little bit too attentive," Paddon said.
"I didn't want to throw it away so we drove it steadily without taking too many risks and got to the end.
The goal was to secure the title and finish in the top six. We've done both and I'm so happy but I really can't believe it - it's incredible."
Accepting the honour Paddon was quick to turn his champagne spray on the Kiwi fans gathered at the podium presentation overlooking Coffs Harbour Gallow's Beach.
Hometown hero Nathan Quinn made the most of his local knowledge to go fastest on three Sunday stages in his Mitsubishi, despite being hit by a brake problem during the morning.
Quinn finished the third quickest Aussie in 18th overall, winning eight stages over the four days in the WPRC classification of Rally Australia - Coffs Coast.