Front-running Latvala rewarded for persistence in Jordan desert BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila lie third in the Jordan Rally after an absorbing contest during today's second leg. Despite facing the...
Front-running Latvala rewarded for persistence in Jordan desert
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila lie third in the Jordan Rally after an absorbing contest during today's second leg. Despite facing the worst of the road conditions in the rocky Arabian desert, the Finns battled hard throughout the longest leg of this three-day rally and were rewarded by gaining their preferred position in the start order for tomorrow's exciting finale.
Good Friday turned out to be far from that for team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen. The Finns were less than 3km into the day's opening speed test when they retired their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car from fifth place with broken front suspension after hitting a bank.
The temperature by the shores of the Dead Sea warmed up in more ways than one today. As the mercury in the thermometer climbed to 33C, the battle for supremacy in this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship also became hotter. Six pairings started the day with realistic ambitions of victory. Ahead of them lay a gruelling 138.28km of competition, including two passes through the daunting 41.45km Jordan River special stage, which tracks the river through traditional Bedouin communities along the high-security border between Jordan and Palestine.
Latvala began the day with a 30.2sec advantage in his Focus RS WRC at the head of the leaderboard, but the 24-year-old knew he would do well to retain that. He was first in the start order and traction and grip were at a minimum as he swept slippery loose gravel from the road surface to create a cleaner and faster line for those behind.
He ended the morning with his lead reduced to 4.7sec and was finally overhauled by Sebastien Loeb on the penultimate test. As drivers contemplated slowing in the final stage at Jordan River to improve tomorrow's start position, Latvala continued to battle on, fearing that he might again have to endure a road sweeping role in the morning. When the dust settled at the end of one of the longest tests of the season, Latvala was 27.7sec from the lead in third, and delighted with his start position tomorrow.
"It's the perfect position for me because the two drivers ahead will clean the road," he said. "I need everything to click into place so I can fight for victory. It was good experience for me to take on the role that nobody wanted today, but I'm happy to let someone else take over for tomorrow. I thought tactics would come into play from those behind to make me start first tomorrow, but it didn't happen.
"This morning the grip level was slippery, but consistent. This afternoon it was good in the braking areas but venture slightly off the line and there was no grip at all. The ruts were narrow and I struggled to keep the car in the tracks. I know my first priority is to ensure I finish but sometimes you need to take risks and I would really like to win. It's possible to catch the guys ahead if everything goes perfectly. I'll keep the pressure on during the morning loop and see how things stand then.
"Running first was difficult, but I expected that and I was pleased with my performance. There were many rhythm changes in Jordan River and the stage is so long and featureless that it's hard to remember where you are. There aren't many landmarks and the road winds through scenery that is very similar," added Latvala.
Hirvonen, who started the day in fifth, was left to reflect what might have been. "I made a silly mistake and I can't believe it. The stage was going well when I took too tight a line over a crest. The car hit a small gravel bank on the inside of a right bend and the impact threw it into the air and across the road. I was lucky not to roll but it landed on the left front wheel and the front left suspension broke. I rarely make a mistake and I'm disappointed. I've put myself in a difficult position from a championship perspective but I'll fight back," he said. He will restart in 20th place under SupeRally rules tomorrow.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "Jari-Matti has a good start position tomorrow. It was from third in the order that he drove so well to take the lead yesterday. He is in a strong position to challenge for victory. Mikko's retirement was very disappointing. I feel desperately sorry for him because he was in a good position to challenge today."
News from other Ford teams
Stobart M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin are sixth in a Focus RS WRC despite a misfire during the first pass through the Jordan River stage. Team-mates Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor punctured a rear right tyre after hitting some rocks in the same test. They stopped to replace the tyre, but brake issues cost more time and they dropped more than six minutes and slid to 13th. They recovered to ninth by the end of the day. Munchi's Ford drivers Federico Villagra and Jorge Perez Companc are seventh in a Focus RS WRC, despite stalling briefly at a hairpin.
The final day takes competitors north of the Dead Sea base. After restarting at 07.30, they face two identical loops of four stages, split by a return to the Dead Sea service park mid-morning. The final stage of each loop passes the place where Jesus Christ was baptised in the Jordan River. The finish ceremony on the shores of the Dead Sea takes place at 15.30 after another 105.50km of competition.