Ford World Rally Team endured a double disappointment at Rally Italia Sardegna as both cars crashed into retirement during today’s second leg.
Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson retired from second in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car after hitting a rock, following the demise of Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila who went out earlier when they struck a gatepost.
Solberg will incur a 10 minute penalty following his retirement, while Latvala will carry a 25 minute penalty into the penultimate leg of this four-day event.
After last night’s quickfire opening leg, today’s competition covered six speed tests and 117.36km of competition. Drivers initially headed south of the rally base in Olbia, before heading to the north coast for new tests near Sassari.
Three stages this morning were repeated this afternoon after which the rally returned to Olbia after the longest leg of the event.
Conditions were slippery after overnight rain and all the top drivers opted for Michelin’s soft compound tyres for the morning loop.
The narrow gravel tracks were extremely slippery and a string of front-runners were forced out, while those that escaped dramas had to manage their tyres carefully as the rocky roads took tyre wear to the limit.
Solberg began the day in third and was second on the opening two stages to climb to second overall.
The 37-year-old Norwegian settled for a cautious drive through the morning’s final test to reach the Sassari service zone 25.8sec behind leader Mikko Hirvonen.
“We expected tyre wear to be high because the roads were abrasive,” said Solberg. “However, the wear in the second stage was greater than we thought.
I knew the final test would be difficult, so I was cautious over the initial downhill section to preserve the rubber as much as possible. But the next uphill section was very hard because I didn’t have enough grip.”
Hard compound rubber was the natural choice for the afternoon tests, and Solberg closed on Hirvonen with another second fastest time.
However, just 1.4km from the end of the penultimate test he was sidelined after striking a rock, the impact damaging his car’s front left suspension and breaking the cross-member.
“I was happy with second and Chris and I decided we wouldn’t push, so I changed my driving style accordingly,” explained Solberg. “In a slow left corner the front wheel hit a rock on the inside.
It was quite a shock because the rock wasn’t marked in my pace notes. The impact broke the cross-member and there was nothing more I could do.
“I was driving neatly so as not to take risks and to look after my tyres. Ironically if I had been driving faster then the car would have been more sideways going into the corner, and I probably wouldn’t have hit the rock,” added Solberg.
Latvala restarted in sixth and the 27-year-old Finn climbed to fourth in the opening stage. However, a bizarre incident early in the next test brought about his retirement.
“It was a new stage and my plan was to take back time following my puncture yesterday,” he said. “I came to a slippery downhill section on a hard surface and braked late for a tightening left corner.
The car went wide and over a rock. When I came back onto the road I noticed steam from the radiator. I spoke with Miikka and looked over to his side to see if there was a warning light on the dash.
“When I looked back to the road I realised I couldn’t stop in time for the next right bend. I aimed the car straight ahead into a field but hit a gatepost, and the front right of the car was too badly damaged to continue.
It was my mistake. I became distracted by the radiator issue and lost concentration. I should have focused on the driving and left Miikka to check the dashboard.
“Yesterday I made an error with my start position and broke a wheel after hitting a rock, and then this happens today. This is one of my favourite rallies and I’m disappointed at the way I made the mistakes,” admitted Latvala.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson described the day as a ‘huge disappointment’. “We paid the price for two errors.
Both will restart tomorrow and the aim will be for both drivers to bring their cars to the finish on Sunday so that we can maintain our record-breaking run of manufacturers’ points finishes,” he said.
Source: Ford World Rally Team