Jari-Matti Latvala has made the best possible start to Rally Italia Sardegna by going fastest on the Qualifying Stage near Olbia this morning.
It means the Finn, at the wheel of a Volkswagen Polo R, will have first choice of road position for the opening day of the FIA World Rally Championship qualifier.
With the forecast dry and hot weather, Latvala - who took 3m12.655s to complete the 3.86-kilometre stage – is likely to choose to run as far down Friday’s running order as possible to avoid sweeping the stages of loose-surface gravel.
Latvala, who won the Acropolis Rally earlier this month, gave a huge grin when he was shown his time at the end of the stage. “After the Qualifying Stage in in Greece where I made a mistake I had to do better here - and I did,” he told wrc.com. “It felt good and that puts me in the best position to choose where I want to start.”
Volkswagen team boss Jost Capito was at the stage end to offer his congratulations. “I came here to see whether his performance was the same as it had been in Greece. I’m so pleased to see that it is. His driving was outstanding and it has given him the widest choice of start positions.”
Evgeny Novikov was second quickest, 0.690s down on Latvala’s time in his Qatar M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS. “I tried to win but second fastest is okay for me,” said the Russian. “I’m happy with at that. It’s very good to have such a choice for tomorrow.”
Latvala’s team-mate Sebastien Ogier posted the third fastest time, 1.571s down on the Finn, who won in Sardinia back in 2009. “Not so bad, it was quite a good drive,” said Ogier. “I could have been a bit faster but it was rough and narrow and it would have been really easy to take a wheel off in there.”
Mikko Hirvonen was disappointed to have set the fourth quickest time in his Citroen DS3 WRC, 1.742s slower than Latvala. “I hit a rock midway through. The time isn’t bad but it’s not good enough,” he said.
Ford Fiesta RS pilot Thierry Neuville rounded off the top-five times. “I’m not so happy with that,” he said. “I don’t have enough traction under braking, but I can’t change that now. Also I was too careful in places where I should have been faster.
Latvala holds back in Italy
Jari-Matti Latvala has opted to start tomorrow's opening leg of Rally Italia Sardegna at the bottom of the top priority drivers.
The Finn was fastest in qualifying earlier today in his Volkswagen Polo R, earning the right to choose his start position first. Unsurprisingly, he chose 13th and last of the leading drivers, to try to make the best of improved conditions lower down the order.
Khalid Al Qassimi, who was slowest in qualifying, will have the unenviable task of starting first, sweeping slippery gravel from the road surface to leave an increasingly cleaner and faster line for those behind.
“It’s mid-summer, the skies are clear and the temperature is 30°C so it means you want to start as far back as possible because in Sardinia the cleaning effect is quite big,” said Latvala.
“We saw in free practice how much the stage times improved as more cars went through, so for me it was clear that to start far back in position 13 was the best option.
“It’s a good feeling to start well. It was great to win my first WRC rally with Volkswagen in Greece but that’s history now. We have a good start position, but Friday will be hard. It’s a long day in hot conditions,” he added.
Just ahead of Latvala will be Evgeny Novikov, the Russian setting second fastest time in qualifying in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Sebastien Ogier, team-mate to Latvala at Volkswagen, will be ahead of Novikov.
There were no surprises in the selection, every driver selecting the lowest available position.
The full start order is:
1. Khalid Al-Qassimi
2. Michal Kosciuszko
3. Elfyn Evans
4. Per-Gunnar Andersson
5. Martin Prokop
6. Andreas Mikkelsen
7. Dani Sordo
8. Mads Ostberg
9. Thierry Neuville
10 Mikko Hirvonen
11 Sebastien Ogier
12 Evgeny Novikov
13 Jari-Matti Latvala