Ford World Rally Team made a strong start to Rallye Deutschland to hold second and third after today’s opening leg. In this first pure asphalt round of the FIA World Rally Championship season, Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson lie second in a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, with Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila third in a similar car.
Latvala won two of the afternoon’s three speed tests over tricky vineyard tracks on the banks of the Mosel river, north-east of Trier. The Ford duo are separated by just 9.0sec with two days of competition remaining in this ninth round of the series.
Drivers tackled two identical loops of three special stages covering 137.84km. Although the narrow tests were familiar from previous years, they were used in the opposite direction, ensuring accurate pace notes were crucial. The bumpy but fast tracks, linked by sharp hairpin bends, zig-zagged across the hillsides among the grapes and overhanging vines made it hard for drivers to pick out corners.
Despite overnight rain, conditions were dry and Solberg opted for Michelin’s hard compound Pilot Sport tyres all day. The 37-year-old Norwegian powered into second in the opening test and completed the morning loop just 13.1sec from the lead. A similarly strong pace this afternoon kept Solberg firmly in second and he ended a troublefree day 20.4sec from top spot.
“My experience of driving the Fiesta RS WRC on asphalt is relatively small, so I’m still getting used to the car on this surface,” he said. “Considering that, I’m very happy with my performance. I could have pushed harder, but it was important to establish a good feeling and not take too many risks. You have to be smart here.
“I lost a few seconds but this morning but this afternoon was perfect and the car was fantastic. Tomorrow is a long day with some difficult stages so it will be important not to do anything crazy,” added Solberg.
Latvala had a mixed morning, the 27-year-old Finn lying third but regretting a soft set-up on his Fiesta RS WRC that did not provide the stability he wanted. He opted for a diagonal mix of hard and soft compound tyres for the opening test, which was slippery and muddy in the first third. However, in drier conditions later in the stage, the soft rubber became too hot, allowing the car to move around.
He switched to hard tyres for the rest of the morning and despite his wish for stiffer settings, he completed the loop only 5.7sec behind Solberg.
“I knew the first 8km in the opening stage were slippery,” said Latvala. “Although I lost some seconds towards the end, I’m glad I tried the hard-soft mix because it gave me confidence in the muddy section. The set-up was too soft generally although I was able to make small changes during the loop which improved the feeling.”
With a harder set-up, Latvala showed the Fiesta RS WRC’s asphalt speed this afternoon. He won the first and last tests, but admitted they weren’t without risks.
“When I was fastest in stage four, I had two lucky escapes when I was off the road and almost ‘lost’ the car. Afterwards Miikka and I agreed it was time to calm down otherwise we wouldn’t finish the rally. I tried to find a comfortable feeling, but eased off too much, braked too early and didn’t realise how much time I was losing. I found a good compromise on the last stage and was fastest again.
“Tomorrow is the key day of this event and I’m looking forward to the long stages at the Baumholder military land. I enjoy those roads,” added Latvala.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with two stage victories. “It’s hugely encouraging,” he said. “To be second and third, and to be so close to a man who has dominated this rally eight times in the last nine years, feels like leading. Both drivers are within striking distance, with the most difficult stages in the rally still to come.”
News from other Ford teams
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk lie seventh, despite missing junctions twice this morning and once this afternoon. Just 10.8sec behind in eighth are Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson in Adapta World Rally Team’s Fiesta RS WRC, the Norwegian driver missing a junction in the opening stage and suffering brake problems this morning. M-Sport Ford’s Evgeny Novikov / Nicolas Klinger retired in the opening stage after hitting a wall and damaging the right rear of the car. They will restart under Rally 2 regulations tomorrow. Martin Prokop / Zdenĕk Hrůza retired in stage three when, after a puncture, their Czech Ford National Team car caught fire later in the stage and burned out. Daniel Oliveria / Carlos Magalhäes damaged the rear of their Fiesta RS WRC after going off the road in the same test and they, too, retired.
The second leg is the longest and most difficult. It includes more vineyard tracks, fast roads through the Saarland countryside and two passes over the daunting 46.54km Arena Panzerplatte test at the Baumholder military area. After leaving Trier at 07.00, drivers face two identical loops of three stages covering 164.90km, before returning for the overnight halt at 20.22. Competitors have two short remote service zones in Birkenfeld before the Panzerplatte tests as well as a 30-minute service in Trier which splits the two loops.