Nancy Knapp Schilke
Citroen’s Finn missed the choice of starting position by 0.37 seconds
The sixth special qualifying stage in the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship came down to a battle between the two top drivers from Finland. Jari-Matti Latvala will have his choice of starting position for the first day of competition in Rally New Zealand. The Finn set the fastest time at 2:31.86 in his Ford Fiesta RS. Mikko Hirvonen was second in his Citroen on the 5.06 kilometre qualifying stage. Third was Ford’s Petter Solberg, who was just two-tenths off the pace of Hirvonen.
The seventh round is centered in Auckland, and will offer the drivers roads that at times will remind them of a rollercoaster. It is winter in New Zealand so weather could play a factor in Ford and Latvala’s starting position. The stages will consist of mostly gravel roads at top speeds through the valleys, but there will parts of the event that will be contested on asphalt.
The last couple of corners were just perfect; really enjoyed it.
Latvala, the 2010 winner in New Zealand commented, “Very good feeling; we did a little modification to the rear diff and I was more comfortable with the car. More than half the competitive distance is on the first day so the start position here makes a big difference. I really tried hard to take the fastest time and this now gives me the perfect position from which to choose where I want to start tomorrow.”
Hirvonen admitted: “I made one small mistake but overall I was really struggling on the shakedown to find a good setup and rhythm, but that was awesome. The last couple of corners were just perfect; really enjoyed it.”
Solberg is still searching for his first win with the Blue Oval team and he said, “I tried to get the feeling; we haven't driven since Greece but the feeling is good. No problem, maybe a small mistake but Mikko did a very good time.”
Loeb was fourth on the qualifying stage and the Frenchman. “I had a good drive. It is tricky, the grip is not the same everywhere and less grip than we expected. There is more water on the gravel and it is a little bit muddy in some places but I didn't make any mistakes so I tried to push,” he said.
New Zealand’s star, Hayden Paddon is in a Skoda Fabia S2000 to earn more points in the SWRC, and he commented on his homeland weather: “We’re expecting overnight rain tonight and it’s supposed to dry out tomorrow, which will suit us better running immediately behind the 14 WRC cars.”
There have been six special qualifying runs thus far, and Ford has set the fastest times on five of them. Yet Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb holds the championship points lead. Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson commented: “There is no doubt that the Ford Fiesta RS WRC is very fast, we just need to back it up with a strong result this weekend.”
The starting position will be decided later.
I know it’s winter and there is still a risk with the rain.
Interesting development with the “lucky number 13”coming into play as that is the choice of Latvala and the Ford team. The choice for Friday’s starting position was in the hands of the Finn, and he will start 13th; behind his main rivals for the New Zealand victory.
“The plan was that obviously as we are [heading] south tomorrow there is more gravel on the top surface than ever before. I know it’s winter and there is still a risk with the rain but I still believe when you do 200 stage kilometres and it will be dry at some point so I think the road will need cleaning, so that’s why we want to be further back. I’m not so scared about starting so far back,” explained Latvala.
With the second fastest time set in the earlier qualifying run, Hirvonen elected to throw off his former teammate as his co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen said: “It’s so soft and we had to do something different to Jari! So we had to wind them up.” The team selected to be first on the road.
Second out of the gate will be Latvala’s teammate. Solberg chuckled as he commented, “Mikko screwed up my plan!”
Next to select was Loeb who took the third starting position.