BATTLE FOR RUNNERS' UP ON A KNIFE-EDGE AS LATVALA AIMS HIGH IN WALES Hirvonen maintains podium position while Al Qassimi climbs the rankings Cardiff, WALES, 13 November, 2009: The battle for second place in the FIA World Rally Drivers' ...
BATTLE FOR RUNNERS' UP ON A KNIFE-EDGE AS LATVALA AIMS HIGH IN WALES
Hirvonen maintains podium position while Al Qassimi climbs the rankings
Cardiff, WALES, 13 November, 2009: The battle for second place in the FIA World Rally Drivers' Championship stepped up a notch today, 13 November, as it became a two-way tussle between BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team driver Jari-Matti Latvala and his rival, privateer Petter Solberg at the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season finale in the south Wales countryside.
A series of dramatic twists for Latvala has kept the tension high amid the crowded Welsh stages and has seen the many followers of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) partnered BP Ford Abu Dhabi team hopes dashed then raised again as the action reaches the half way point.
The first twist came after 25-year old Latvala had begun the three-day competition in the best possible form, holding first position for the majority of day one in his bid to claim his best Drivers' Championship finish to date. The perfect end to day one eluded the Abu Dhabi driver, as a punctured tyre on his Ford Focus RS in yesterday's final speed test had dropped him back to sixth.
"My windscreen was misting and the visibility was bad and getting worse, because it was also foggy. I approached a right corner over a crest and I didn't turn in early enough and hit the bank. It wasn't until I reached the next junction that I realised the impact had knocked the tyre off the rim," he explained.
Ever optimistic the young Finn went out flying on the opening stage this morning, recording the joint fastest stage time across 14.78 km Radnor and reclaiming some of the minute of lost time he had accrued. Then the second unexpected twist hit during the same stage, as Frenchman, and the BP Ford Abu Dhabi drivers' Championship rival, Sebasitan Ogier, rolled his Citroen on the slippery surfaces of the Welsh countryside.
The incident propelled both Latvala and his BP Ford Abu Dhabi team mate Mikko Hirvonen further up the rankings, promoting the latter into a competitive third place position for Wales Rally GB, whilst turning the battle for runners' up in the Drivers' Championship into a two horse race between Latvala and Solberg.
Latvala returned to mid-day service in fourth, 1 minute 11.7 seconds behind Solberg, but with a five point lead on the Norwegian already in hand there is everything to play for.
"Ogier's accident changes the situation," he said. "But I can't think about championship positions right now because everything is too tight to call. I had good speed this morning, but the most important thing in these conditions is firstly to stay on the road. I took some massive risks in Radnor and Monument Hill, and made some errors, so I need to concentrate on staying calm and focusing on moving up the leader board again."
Hirvonen, having produced consistent times and persisted across the tricky, rock strewn terrain of south Wales provided the BP Ford Abu Dhabi fans with an equally pleasing result at the half-way point, with the opportunity to better his position still available in the nine remaining stages of Wales Rally GB.
"My driving was inconsistent," he said. "Sometimes everything seemed to go really well but then at other times I was just too cautious, especially on the Epynt asphalt in Four Ways Crychan. Having said that, everything was better than yesterday."
After a difficulty opening day Team Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, also climbed the classifications to lie in 13th. Undeterred by the ever changing and unpredictable conditions that typify the final event on the WRC calendar, Al Qassimi returned to the remote Builth Wells service at midday having moved up two places at the half-way point. Al Qassimi's Northern Irish co-driver Michael Orr is offering his Emirati partner valuable local expertise, having competed in 12 previous Rally GBs, and comes into this contest one of the most experienced on this terrain.
The conditions are very different from yesterday as the weather is drier, but the stages are actually more slippery," said Al Qassimi. "The competition continues to be tough, but having Michael in the passenger seat gives us an undisputable advantage."
In the Fiesta SportTrophy international (FSTi), the Abu Dhabi Junior Driver, Majed Al Shamsi began his day looking to mirror his impressive stage win at the beginning of yesterday's action.
The young Emirati claimed an early victory over his rivals, but went on to experience issues with his Fiesta R2 brakes, preventing the Abu Dhabi driver from challenging for further stage wins throughout the first day of action.
As a result the aspiring champion resolved to approach the second day of action as competitively as possible. After recording the fastest time against his competitors on 10.14 km Monument Hill, the driver underlined his credentials for a top three finish in the FSTi Championship.
"With our brake problems during five of the six stages yesterday we were really challenged to produce fast times. It was a disappointing start, but our team of mechanics have done a great job on the car and we have been able to get back out and put some great times in," said Al Shamsi.
As rally fans gear up for what is set to be a thrilling finale to Wales Rally GB on Sunday, in Abu Dhabi the qualifying sessions are underway for what promises to be a stunning finale to the FIA Formula 1 season at the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix tomorrow.