Rally France: Abu Dhabi leg 2 midday report

Three Stage Wins Keep BP Ford Abu Dhabi in Rallye de France Contention BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Jari-Matti Latvala kept his hopes alive for a Rallye de France podium finish after recording the fastest times in three FIA World Rally...

Three Stage Wins Keep BP Ford Abu Dhabi in Rallye de France Contention

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Jari-Matti Latvala kept his hopes alive for a Rallye de France podium finish after recording the fastest times in three FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) stages on Friday evening and Saturday morning to enter mid-day service in fifth place.

Latvala put in a sterling display to win the 9.9kms Hohlandsbourg 2 and the 24.12kms Grand Ballon 2 stages on Friday and the 13.09kms Salm 1 on Saturday to leave him just 7.5seconds off fourth placed Peter Solberg at the break.

"I was driving on gravel and that helped. I took some risks but it wasn't possible to cut the corners as much as in other stages so less dirt was dragged onto the road," said Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-backed Latvala.

"I didn't have a consistent morning. My time on the last stage was great, but if conditions were more dependable I would have been happier. The first two tests had good grip but the third was incredibly slippery. I think I hesitated a little too much when I didn't know the conditions and that cost me time."

Teammate Mikko Hirvonen is a further 1m28s behind the young Finn as he struggles to find a winning rhythm on the drenched, winding country roads outside of Strasbourg. The 30-year-old Abu Dhabi lead driver was sixth through all four early stages to maintain his position on the leaderboard.

And Abu Dhabi's motorsport ace Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi continued to display caution on the French asphalt, persevering with his aim to finish the WRC competition safely after heavy crashes in Japan and Finland. He finishes the mid-way point in 14th place, 1m12s outside of the top 10.

"Today's conditions are tough on everyone and I am happy to have joined the mid-day service with little damage to the car and will now focus on the second run of the stages this afternoon, which I'm sure will be even trickier than this morning," said Al Qassimi.

The Emirati rally star's caution paid off earlier in the day after rivals Ken block and Kimi Raikkonen both fell victim to the tough terrain, with the duo dropping back to allow Al Qassimi to climb to ninth place, and within the championship points scoring zone.

However, the heavy overnight rain had worsened road conditions considerably, with mud and water on the asphalt roads making the possibility of the cars aquaplaning very much a reality, causing all WRC contenders to struggle with braking on hairpin bends.

Abu Dhabi's Al Qassimi entered the day's longest stage, 35.7km Pays D'Ormont, holding a 14.5 second advantage on tenth placed Henning Solberg, only to lose valuable time after encountering difficulties in the last kilometres which saw him come-off the rain-sodden track.

"We were a couple of kilometres from the end when we spun, there was some damage to the car and we had to get assistance from spectators to push the car back into position," added Al Qassimi. "It was frustrating as we lost over a minute in time, but the conditions here are really hard and we are pleased to have remained on the road and in the competition."

Meanwhile, Team Abu Dhabi's junior driver, Bader Al Jabri, lost his early lead in the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) to Christian Reidmann. Despite the Abu Dhabi driver winning three stages Friday morning, brake problems with his Fiesta R2 in the afternoon caused him to slow in the day's closing two speed tests, forfeiting him top podium spot. He remains in a competitive second position facing another full day of action.

As rallying conditions had worsened overnight, the members of ADTA's grassroots development programme focused on cautious driving, but technical problems hounded the team with an unfortunate flat tyre on Stage 10 for Al Jabri. The set-back lost the up-and-coming rally star valuable time and enabled rival Harry Hunt to pass him, leaving the Emirati in 3rd place after 12 stages.

"I am really pleased with our performance so far this rally. The roads are some of the toughest we have come up against so far, the surfaces are so greasy that it is hard to get a grip, so to take three stage wins and the lead is a great result for us," said Al Jabri. "We are of course disappointed with the problems we have had today, but we still have another day and a half of action and anything can happen."

-source: adta

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Series WRC
Drivers Kimi Raikkonen , Jari-Matti Latvala , Mikko Hirvonen , Henning Solberg , Bader Al Jabri , Harry Hunt