Ford World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished second in Rally de España today to secure third place in the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship.
The Finns ended this 13th and final round of the series just 7.0sec from victory in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car to clinch a top three series finish for the second time in their careers.
The team had already confirmed second place in the manufacturers’ standings and Latvala’s podium ended an emotional weekend for Ford at the Blue Oval’s final official WRC appearance.
Rally de España is the only mixed surface round in the championship and offered 405.46km of action.
Based in Salou on the Costa Daurada coastline near Barcelona, it comprised an opening leg of gravel speed tests before two days of competition on smooth, wide, circuit-like special stages. Friday’s loose-surface roads provided one of the most savage days in recent years. Heavy rain made conditions treacherous with mud and standing water making survival the name of the game.
Conditions deteriorated with the passage of every car and Latvala’s low start position left him at an even greater disadvantage than many.
However, the 27-year-old Finn kept his cool to end the day in third and climbed to second early yesterday as the rally switched to asphalt.
He began today’s final leg 27.0sec from the lead but two fastest times enabled him to close the gap, maximum bonus points for victory in the Power Stage ensuring third in the title standings.
“After such a difficult season, third in the championship means a lot to me, especially after missing a round through injury,” said Latvala. “In terms of time, this is the closest I have ever been to a win on a rally that is primarily asphalt.
Hard tyres were the right choice for the final three stages and I was closing with every kilometre. One more stage may have been enough for me to do it.
“I wanted to finish my career at Ford on a high note and I’m so pleased to have done that. I’ve had many fantastic years here building my career and I would like to thank everyone in the team for their support during that time.
I have great memories of my career here that I will carry through my lifetime,” he added.
Solberg’s chances of a strong result ended on the second stage when he hit a rock submerged in a water-filled rut. The impact damaged his car’s suspension and he retired from the leg.
He returned under Rally 2 regulations with a 25-minute penalty, and climbed from 41st to 11th.
“I made a good start but everything went wrong on only the second stage,” said the 37-year-old Norwegian. “That sums up the season for me. I was strong at the beginning but unfortunately it didn’t last.
I had the speed but bad luck and some mistakes cost me dearly. Unfortunately I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to during the second half of the season.”
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on the event and the season. “It wasn’t the perfect ending, but it was probably as close as we were going to get. Jari-Matti drove well over the final two days.
The Fiesta RS WRC is very competitive, and although we were quickest in qualifying on many occasions, won Power Stages and set many fastest times, we didn’t score as many victories as we should have done,” he said.
“The important thing now is that we continue to develop the car and I hope we can stay at the highest level next year,” he added.
Ford Racing senior manager Gerard Quinn said: “It’s the end of an emotional weekend as it marks the farewell of Ford World Rally Team from the WRC.
It was a great honour to have led this programme for Ford over the past three years and I’d like to thank our drivers, co-drivers, every team member and fan that has supported Ford.
As our rally partner, M-Sport will continue to lead private team programmes in WRC. I look forward to providing engineering and technical support through Ford Racing so privateers can continue to compete at the top level in WRC and other rally championships.”
Ford World Rally Team