Hirvonen and Latvala capitalise on tactical ploy to lead in Turkey BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team took full advantage of last night's bold tactical manoeuvre to take control of the Rally of Turkey during today's second leg. Mikko Hirvonen...
Hirvonen and Latvala capitalise on tactical ploy to lead in Turkey
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team took full advantage of last night's bold tactical manoeuvre to take control of the Rally of Turkey during today's second leg. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen sped over the tricky gravel tracks in the south to lead this eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship by 16.1sec in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila lie second in a similar Focus RS with just one leg remaining of this four-day event.
After dominating the opening leg to hold first and second, both Ford drivers deliberately eased their pace near the end of the final speed test to ensure a better start position today. By dropping down the leaderboard, Hirvonen and Latvala forced other drivers, including championship rival Sebastien Loeb, to start ahead of them. As a result they enjoyed the benefits of roads swept clear of slippery gravel by those ahead, leaving a cleaner and faster line for their Focus RS cars to exploit.
Both attacked hard to build a lead over Loeb which they will take into tomorrow's shortest leg. Although Loeb will have the advantage of cleaner roads tomorrow, Ford's Finns will hope that the advantage they earned will see them through the final 67.56km of competition. Hirvonen leads third-placed Loeb by 34.2sec with Latvala 18.1sec ahead of the Frenchman.
Today's action was again played out in the towering Anatolian mountains, which provide a stunning backdrop to the holiday resort of Kemer where the rally is based. Beaches and bikinis were far from the thoughts of Hirvonen and Latvala though, who tackled another seven rough and rocky speed tests covering 137.66km. Air temperatures touched 34C while the mercury reached 48C on the ground, providing a tough challenge for Pirelli's Scorpion tyres.
Hirvonen restarted in fifth and fastest time on the opening two special stages ensured last night's move paid dividends as the 27-year-old rocketed back to the top of the leaderboard. Latvala, third overnight, had slightly worse conditions than his colleague but the 23-year-old also capitalised on the tactical masterstroke to climb to second on the opening loop. Both concentrated during the afternoon on building as big a lead as possible over Loeb to take into the final leg. Hirvonen won four and Latvala one of the seven stages.
"I was hoping for a bigger lead," said Hirvonen. "Thirty-four seconds over Loeb is good but 40sec would have been comfortable. Both Jari-Matti and Loeb will be tough to beat but I'm more worried about Jari-Matti. I have to realistic. I came here to regain the championship lead and that's my main aim for tomorrow. That's more important to me than winning this rally.
"I'm first on the road tomorrow so all I can do is drive flat out and hope for the best. It could be a great three-way battle. Starting first isn't my strongest point but I spoke with Marcus Gronholm last week and asked his advice about driving first on the road. He told me to remove it from my mind and just get on with driving normally. Loeb did well in that position and I need to learn how to do that, but today wasn't the day for that," added Hirvonen.
Latvala is also relishing the battle. "Tomorrow will have lots of hard driving, maximum concentration and plenty of effort to try to keep Loeb behind. I'm both a team-mate and competitor with Mikko and I would like to win this rally. I'm not here just to cruise but I must also remember that I mustn't put the car off the road. Mikko will be first in the start order so it won't be easy for him while Loeb will attack from behind and will be very fast. The long stage will be tough for me as I will only have Mikko's line to follow," he said.
"He has been driving so fast that I've not been able to ease off. I had it on my mind all day that I didn't want to be first on the road tomorrow. Because of the speed of Mikko and Loeb, I couldn't ease off and there was no chance for me to use tactics tonight," added Latvala.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with his drivers. "Mikko and Jari-Matti have given themselves the best opportunity of scoring a great result tomorrow. They have both done the best job they could today and our position tonight emphasises that last night's tactical decision was the right one. There are more than 60km of stages tomorrow, including two runs over the longest test of the rally, and Mikko and Jari-Matti must clean the roads so it will be a fascinating day," he said.
News from our Rivals
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) had the unwanted role of cleaning the stages all day but after slipping to fourth this morning, he regained a place this afternoon. Henning Solberg (Ford) holds fourth after spending the day familiarising himself with a new gearbox. Dani Sordo (Citroen) is fifth, despite dropping 40sec with a rear left puncture on this morning's second stage. Petter Solberg (Subaru) rounds off the top six. Stobart driver Gigi Galli (Ford) was fighting with Loeb for a top three position but the Italian dropped nearly four minutes with boost valve failure in the turbo and he is now eighth. There were just two major retirements. Per-Gunnar Andersson (Suzuki) stopped in stage 11 with electrical problems and team-mate Toni Gardemeister retired in the same test with a broken radiator. Neither will restart tomorrow.
The final day is the shortest of the event but no less tough than the previous two. After leaving Kemer at 08.30, drivers tackle just three stages covering 67.56km in the same area as today. However, two of those tests are the 31.03km Olympos, the longest of the rally. The finish is in Kemer at 14.50.