The opening leg of the World Rally Championship's eighth round had a dramatic outcome with a Finn holding the edge by 9.1 seconds. Jari-Matti Latvala and his navigator Miikka Anttila are holding down the fort for the Ford team, flying alone with...
The opening leg of the World Rally Championship's eighth round had a dramatic outcome with a Finn holding the edge by 9.1 seconds. Jari-Matti Latvala and his navigator Miikka Anttila are holding down the fort for the Ford team, flying alone with a gaggle of four Citroens giving chase in Rally Finland.
"It's a dream to be in this position," said Latvala. "When I arrived in the service park tonight the grandstands were full and all the fans cheered and applauded me. That gave me a real boost. It's too early to think about winning though, I'm just concentrating on one stage at a time."
Norwegian Petter Solberg sits second in his privateer Citroen C4 followed by Sebastien Ogier, who is nearly 13 seconds off the pace of Solberg and a further 22 seconds adrift of the leader in his first rally with the Citroen World Rally Team.
Latvala took three of the 11 stages and moved ahead of Solberg on the seventh special after just sitting one-tenth off the Norwegian at the end of stage six. Solberg won Thursday's first stage but on Friday, Mikko Hirvonen put on a performance that saw him move into first overall until the fourth stage.
The Finn -- teammate to Latvala -- then crashed his Ford Focus, though. "Mikko's retirement put more pressure on me," admitted Latvala, "but it didn't change my way of thinking."
Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen were not injured in the crash. They were headed into a right-hand bend on the second pass called Urria when they "rolled up the road five times" per Ford Racing. The Focus was heavily damaged and was retired. The 30th birthday for Hirvonen is tomorrow.
"The section at which I crashed is my favourite corner on any stage, anywhere in the world. It happened at a fast right corner which led into a jump," explained Hirvonen. "I landed after the jump in the perfect place on the road but the car pulled left and started rolling. I was surprised the landing pulled the car across the road so violently. It happened so fast that I had no time to react."
The contest is close with Petter Solberg taking two stage wins and Ogier had one. Sebastien Loeb sits fourth with two stage wins with Dani Sordo fifth after one stage win for the Citroen Junior squad. The gap between Latvala and Sordo is 43.7 seconds.
With only one day left for the event, road position will play a major role tomorrow as Loeb tries to regain time from being first on the road this morning, "It wasn't an easy day! The others are motoring very quickly and I lost a bit of time here and there. I don't really know to what extent I was handicapped by being first out on the road today. We're starting fourth tomorrow and we'll see if that changes anything. I'm going to continue to push, but winning looks a bit problematic given Jari-Matti Latvala's lead."
That leaves the task to Solberg to trump Latvala and the Ford team at their home race, "I know I can be much faster, and will push a lot more on tomorrows stages, not only to keep the others behind, but will chase for Latvala also."