BY MARTIN WALSH
FINLAND’S Mikko Hirvonen hailed the welcome and appreciation that he was afforded in West Cork as he took a late victory in the National category of the Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally.
Partnered by fellow Finn Jarno Ottman and driving a car first owned by Dunmanway’s Anthony Maybury, they finished a minute and 35.2 seconds ahead of Armagh’s Damien Toner/John McGrath (Ford Escort) with Dunmanway’s Conor McCarthy (Mitsubishi) and his Dripsey co-driver Gavin Sheehan a minute 27.8 seconds further behind in third.
At the ceremonial start in Pearse Street on the Friday night Hirvonen and co-driver Jarno Ottman were given a great West Cork welcome and promised to entertain over the following two days.
Despite the wind and rain on Saturday that was replaced by glorious sunshine on Sunday’s second leg, Hirvonen was hugely popular out on the stages and equally so at the Darrara service park where he mingled with the fans and posed for photographs.
It was a similar situation at the awards ceremony at the Clonakilty Park Hotel.
He remarked: ‘This is unbelievable. I really enjoyed the rally. It was so great. It is different here. Everybody loves rally, all the people and the welcome. I had a fantastic time really. I have never enjoyed a rally as much.
‘I have so many people to thank, Gerard Quinn, who was responsible for bringing me here, he started it a long time ago. On Saturday when I was at the start of the first stage and the rain was (*******) down I asked myself what am I doing here. But, yes, it was great. It is the most fun I have had in a rally car.
‘I want to thank the Cork Motor Club and all the marshals and Ryan Loughran, the car was great. In the World Rally Championship, rallying is always serious, but this is fun, the way it should be. I had one of the best feelings in my rally career. Thank you.’