BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen started the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship with victory in Rally Sweden on the weekend
The Finns won the opening round by 42.3 seconds in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after three days' competition in the ice-bound Scandinavian forests.
Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished third in a similar Focus RS WRC, 1min 15.4 seconds behind their fellow Finns. The double podium gives the BP Ford Abu Dhabi squad a 10-point lead at the top of the manufacturers' standings after the first of 13 rounds.
Current world champion Sebastien Loeb of France claimed second place in his Citroen.
Drivers tackled 21 speed tests covering 345.15km in the Värmland region of central Sweden. Temperatures got down to -22ºC, snow covered the tracks, but beneath lay a softer than expected ice base. Exposed gravel poked through during the second pass over the roads and posed tough challenges for drivers, as they struggled to prevent stones ripping the tungsten-tipped studs from their tyres to leave little grip.
"After losing the title last year by a point I knew I had to win more, rather than settle for consistent points finishes, so this is the ideal start," said Hirvonen. "It was a big win for us and I want many more this season. It's the first time I've won the opening round of the year. I tried to be more aggressive from the start in all aspects of my performance. It was a brave decision yesterday to change the tyres when I did but it paid off and those kind of decisions make the difference between winning and losing.
"It was such a hard rally for the tyres on the exposed gravel and you can't imagine how nervous I was driving the final stage. I have a year's more experience of a title battle than this time last year and I think that showed here. I need to continue in the same way for the rest of the season," he added.
The championship switches to gravel next month for the first of four rounds outside Europe. Rally Mexico is based in León on 4 - 7 March.
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 09min 30.4sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 3hr 10min 12.7sec
3. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 10min 45.8sec
4. D Sordo/M Marti ESP Citroen C4 3hr 12min 12.0sec
5. S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Citroen C4 3hr 13min 45.7sec
6. H Solberg/I Minor NOR Ford Focus RS 3hr 15min 23.8sec
7. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS 3hr 17min 24.3sec
8. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Subaru Impreza 3hr 18min 52.6sec
9. P Solberg/P Mills NOR Citroen C4 3hr 19min 47.9sec
10 P-G Andersson/A Fredriksson SWE Skoda Fabia 3hr 21min 49.3sec
1. M Hirvonen 25pts
2. S Loeb 18pts
3. J-M Latvala 15pts
4. D Sordo 12pts
5. S Ogier 10pts
6. H Solberg 8pts