Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg dominated the first six special stages of the FIA World Rally Championship’s Wales Rally GB. The two drivers of the Ford Factory, and their navigators, put on an impressive performance today; but not far behind the two Fiesta RS’ is the points leader Sebastien Loeb by a mere 21.3 seconds to the flying Finn.
Solberg and Chris Patterson earned the first two stages, holding the edge over his teammate by a mere 2.3 seconds. An overnight rain caused the gravel roads to be muddy and slippery which added drama to the morning three stages.
Latvala nearly lost his chance to close out the day in the lead. On SS2, he lightly hit a tree stump. Yet he did not let up despite a piece of wood tearing up his tyre but the Michelin soft compound did not let him down as he explained, “It happened 4km after the start at a medium speed right corner. The air stayed inside the tyre but there was a big, big vibration which caused me to lose concentration for a few kilometres. I’m happy the tyre was so strong otherwise I would have had to stop and change it.”
Latvala and Miikka Anttila could taste the overall lead and sailed their Fiesta from fourth to first on Myherin (SS3) before the midway service break. It was the first time that the Finn has held the lead since Rally Portugal. Latvala went on to notch the second pass of the three stages in the afternoon.
Solberg is only 12.1 seconds off Latvala’s pace and his lead over Loeb is 9.2 seconds. “After winning the first two stages I decided to ease the pace a little for the third test, which I didn’t drive last year. I measured my speed on the split times of Sebastien Loeb ahead, but what I didn’t realise was that Jari-Matti was driving much faster behind! It’s a great start but if we want to keep first and second places then we have to keep pushing because we won’t get it for free,” said the Norwegian.
The Frenchman is aiming for his ninth WRC championship, and even though the season will not end this year in the challenging Wales Rally, Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena held second overall briefly but their goal is to score points in their Citroen works team DS3.
The eight-time champion commented, “There was even less grip than on the first run and these are clearly not the conditions in which we are most comfortable. Having said that, I certainly wasn’t looking to push beyond the limits, because first and foremost, we want to score points for the World Championships. The fact we had two spare wheels with us all day also cost us a few seconds. It wasn’t really necessary, because we didn’t have as much tyre wear as we had expected.”