Latvala looks towards Argentine podium as Hirvonen suffers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila delivered another mature performance during today's second leg of Rally Argentina to climb to third in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The...
Latvala looks towards Argentine podium as Hirvonen suffers
Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila delivered another mature performance during today's second leg of Rally Argentina to climb to third in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The Finns moved three places up the leaderboard during one of the classic day's competition in the FIA World Rally Championship season. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen were less fortunate, retiring from second place this afternoon with an overheating problem in their car's engine.
Huge crowds packed today's speed tests in the countryside south-west of the rally base in Carlos Paz, with estimates forecasting that the figures exceeded yesterday's 300,000. After a foggy early morning, the skies cleared and temperatures soared to around 26C. Drivers tackled two identical loops of four special stages in the Traslasierra mountains, including double passes over the famous Giulio Cesare and El Condor tests, before a second pass over the super special stage at Cordoba's soccer stadium.
The route climbed to a season-high of 2195 metres at El Condor, offering spectacular viewing for the fans amid the stunning rock-filled landscape. The nine stages, less rocky than yesterday's roads but narrow and twisty, covered 141.64km and drivers endured more than 13 hours on the road before returning to Carlos Paz for the final overnight halt.
Latvala never waivered from his pre-rally target of a steady drive as the 24-year-old Finn rebuilt his confidence following a massive crash in Portugal earlier this month, when his car plunged 150 metres down a hillside. He started this morning in sixth and climbed to fifth during the opening loop despite a bizarre incident when his car's bonnet broke loose on the first stage. With the engine totally exposed, the look was dramatic but it didn't slow Latvala.
"After the first corner of the stage a pin came loose and the bonnet started to flap up and down. I slowed but realised the stage was long and I could lose a lot of time, so I speeded up again. On the next straight the bonnet came off totally, and flew over the top of the car. We carried on as normal!" he explained.
Latvala claimed fourth on the afternoon's opening stage and moved into the top three when Hirvonen hit problems, setting one fastest time. "We made the decision before the rally to drive steadily here. I felt more confident this afternoon after making a few set-up changes to the car at lunchtime and I picked up the speed a little more. I have my feeling and rhythm back and I'm smiling again. It would be great to finish on the podium tomorrow," he said.
"My plan is to keep this position. I'm 41sec behind Dani Sordo in second with 48km of stages remaining. That would mean gaining almost a second per kilometre and there's no real chance of that. There is no service during the day so we have five stages to tackle in succession. They are quite short and the conditions during the recce were OK so I'm not concerned about that," he added.
Hirvonen, lying second overnight, ended the morning loop just 7.3sec from the lead in his Focus RS WRC. He made changes to his car's suspension and centre differential settings at lunchtime service and was fastest on the opening afternoon test. However, the engine's water temperature suddenly rose about 4km from the end of the following 22.79km test and although he completed the stage with the loss of about 50sec, he went no further and will not restart tomorrow. It ends a run of 22 consecutive points-scoring finishes going back to Rally Japan in 2006.
"The temperature gauge rose from normal to 140C very quickly and the engine switched into safe mode," said the 28-year-old Finn. "I finished the stage slowly and thought the radiator was perhaps blocked, but when I stopped to take a look I couldn't find a blockage so I knew it was a bigger problem. I saw there was no water in the cooling system and spoke with my engineer on the telephone. It became clear that nothing could be done and the team told me to retire.
"I'm disappointed because I had gained time on the previous stage and I think the fight would have gone right down to the finish tomorrow. I had the chance to win but even second would still have given me a chance in the drivers' championship. That's looking very difficult now. Argentina hasn't been kind to me," he added.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "It was a big disappointment to lose Mikko. Because of the excessive temperature that the engine reached, we don't want to risk running the car tomorrow. We want to take it back to the UK and analyse the engine properly, especially as this is the first event of an engine link. Jari-Matti drove sensibly and today has been a big confidence boost for him," he said.
News from other Ford teams
Stobart drivers Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud remain fifth in their Focus RS WRC, despite struggling to turn into corners this morning. Changes at the lunchtime service rectified the problem. Munchi's drivers Federico Villagra and Jorge Perez Companc moved ahead of Stobart duo Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin on the morning's final test. Although Wilson briefly regained the advantage this afternoon, Villagra ended the day in sixth, 18.0sec ahead.
The final day returns to the Punilla Valley, north of Carlos Paz. After restarting at 07.30, drivers tackle four tests last used in 2007 before a third and final pass over the super special stage at Cordoba's soccer stadium. They return to Carlos Paz for the finish ceremony at 13.30.