Jari-Matti Latvala came out of the gate flying on the first day of the FIA World Rally Championship in the 10th round of the 2012 season. The Finn and his navigator Miikka Anttila dominated the three day contest to nail down the back-to-back Wales Rally Great Britain victory by 27.8 seconds.
“This win means a lot to me,” said Latvala. “Rally GB is like a second home event because I started my career here 10 years ago, and I have more experience of this event than my own rally in Finland. It’s one of my favourite rounds and this is the first time in my career that I have won the same rally in consecutive seasons.”
Despite the conditions on the opening day of overnight rain in the Welsh forests, Latvala placed his Ford works team Fiesta RS in the early lead by scoring four of the six stages on day one’s found on the gravel roads. He maintained his edge with three special stages, including the Celtic Manor short stage on asphalt on Saturday. The first two days were challenging for everyone on the slippery roads, plus fog in the morning on the second day.
Latvala was able to take it easier today, but he did add another stage victory to close out the event with a total of eight. The one stage he would have liked to have been fastest was the second pass of Wales Arena since it was the Power stage for the extra championship points awarded; unfortunately he was third, which did give him one extra point for the weekend.
For the final day, the contest was mainly for second between Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb. Solberg was second to his Ford teammate on the first today as he and co-driver Chris Patterson notched the first two of the six stage wins but on Saturday, the Norwegian fell off the pace due to the setup on his Fiesta RS. The team made adjustments on the service stop and Solberg score another stage win. However he had lost time to Latvala, and his lead over Loeb at end of day two had decreased.
The fans of World Rallying saw an epic battle today between two champions.
Citroen’s Loeb had indeed made up ground yesterday to close the gap to 6.4 seconds. Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena were fastest in the first two morning stages: Port Talbot and Rheola. It was in the opening stage today that Loeb held second, barely!
At the midday service stop, Solberg said, “It was a massive battle!” Loeb agreed: “We are second now, but I don’t think Petter will give up the fight as easily as that…”
Neither the Frenchman nor the Norwegian gave an inch. Solberg was fastest on the second pass of Port Talbot to take back the lead for second place! Loeb replied back on Rheola. To top it off, Loeb was second in the arena bonus points to his teammate Mikko Hirvonen.
The eight-time WRC champion claimed second today, besting the 2003 champion by nine-tenths of one second!
“I am pleased to have held onto second place. As I often say, nothing should be taken for granted. Sometimes, winning comes down to sheer hard work. This weekend, Jari-Matti was the best, and I'd like to congratulate him on his perfect rally. Personally speaking, I have to be pleased with the twenty points I have scored here. In terms of the title, it’s a good result.”
After placing third, Solberg, “It rained in the penultimate stage but I managed to keep the fight alive into the final test. I moved in front but made a little mistake when I touched a small bank. I came back again but it wasn’t quite enough. It was so exciting to be involved in such a close battle. It was so tense before the final stage that neither Seb nor I could look at each other!”
The entire challenge was not one of the best for Hirvonen and his navigator Jarmo Lehtinen but they leave Great Britain knowing they are the only team that could nail down the 2012 Drivers’ title. Of course their Citroen teammates in the “other” DS3 are the current points leader, and unless something strange occurs, Loeb and Elena will earn their ninth-consecutive championship.
The Finn ended up fifth, nearly 19 seconds behind the M-Sport prepared Ford of Mads Ostberg. Hirvonen closed out the final day on a high note by scoring the three bonus points with the fastest time of the final special stage of the Wales Arena.
Said Hirvonen, “I often get called ‘Sunday Times’, because I always set good times on the last day! There is no question that the grip has been a lot better, so I feel more confident and that has been reflected in the times…”
Taking fourth in the final outcome, along with a stage win yesterday, was the Adapta team’s Ostberg and co-driver, Jonas Andersson. “We were pushing on all the stages and set some really good times so I am very pleased with that. I am very pleased to have been able to fight with Petter and Sebastien – at least in the beginning – and to take seconds from Mikko all the way through the event was great,” said the Norwegian.