Ford World Rally Team’s drivers ended today’s second leg of Rally Finland separated by just 1.1sec in third and fourth. Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila hold third in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car in their home round of the FIA World Rally Championship, while team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson are fourth in a similar car.
Finland is the fastest round of the 13-event series and such is the pace over the gravel roads in the forests near Jyväskylä, 270km north of Helsinki, that average speeds have neared 130kph. At such high speeds time differences are small and the leading four cars are covered by just 21.4sec going into tomorrow’s final leg.
Eight Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars are packed into the top 10 leaderboard, with a group of privately-entered cars following the official Ford team entries.
After yesterday’s short and sharp opening leg, today was a much longer and more demanding affair. Little more than seven hours after turning their engines off last night, competitors were back on the road at 06.30 this morning. They tackled eight speed tests in the countryside before the action ended with a short special stage at Killeri’s trotting track on the edge of Jyväskylä.
The nine tests covered 133.82km over a mix of narrow tracks and the fast, wide, roller-coaster roads for which this rally is so famous. While the day offered a mix of sunshine and clouds, the rain stayed away. It meant those starting further down the running order benefited from cleaner and faster conditions, as the early starters swept the road surface clear of slippery gravel.
Latvala was tied for second last night, with Solberg just 1.9sec behind. The gap between the Ford pairings never rose to more than 3.8sec today as they set a strong and consistent pace. However, Latvala and Solberg were unable to prevent their two rivals ahead from opening a narrow advantage as the day progressed.
Twenty-seven-year-old Latvala made modifications to his car’s set-up overnight but slipped behind Solberg during the opening two stages. Further changes improved his confidence and feeling with the Fiesta RS WRC. He moved back in front during the second group of stages, an advantage he held during the final four tests this evening, when conditions became rutted and rough.
“The morning was frustrating because I wasn’t happy with the car’s set-up,” said Latvala. “But once I got that right then my confidence increased and my driving improved. I’m still further behind the leaders than I want to be, but everything is still open and I’ll keep pushing tomorrow on roads that I know and enjoy. The trophies aren’t given out until the end so there’s still plenty to fight for.
“Because the set-up wasn’t perfect, I couldn’t settle into a good rhythm. I wasn’t relaxed and I perhaps pushed too hard to try to force the times. My driving wasn’t clean enough and that cost fractions of a second, which all added up,” explained Latvala.
Solberg relished the close battle at the head of the leaderboard during a relatively untroubled day. The 37-year-old Norwegian, who won a stage during yesterday’s leg, added a second fastest time on the final country test this afternoon and ended the leg with a 26.3sec advantage over his closest pursuer. His only issue was an overshoot after a crest in the final loop.
“I settled into a good rhythm and set good times,” said Solberg. “I was happy to win the penultimate stage but it’s incredible that after more than 23km of competition, the difference between the first two drivers was just one-tenth of a second.
“I would like to be closer to our rivals ahead but we weren’t able to match them for outright speed. The gaps were close though, and there is still another long day tomorrow. The final two stages comprise such a large proportion of the rally that nothing is going to be certain until we are through both those tests,” added Solberg.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson said the team was still in the victory fight. “The most difficult day of the rally lies in wait and we remain in the battle at the top of the leaderboard. I would have liked our cars to be closer to the front to really put the pressure on, but there remains plenty to drive for. There are eight Fords inside the top 10 and that’s something we can be proud of tonight,” he said.