Latvala faces final day showdown in Britain for runners-up place BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila propelled themselves back into the fight for the runners-up position in the FIA World Rally ...
Latvala faces final day showdown in Britain for runners-up place
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila propelled themselves back into the fight for the runners-up position in the FIA World Rally Championship during an exciting second leg of Rally GB today. The Finns recovered from yesterday's time loss to climb to fourth in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, setting up an enticing final day duel with Petter Solberg for second in the championship.
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie third in this 13th and final round of the series in their Focus RS WRC. They are 8.6sec ahead of Latvala after a second day of demanding driving in the mid-Wales forests, north of the rally base in Cardiff.
The permutations for Latvala are simple. If Solberg, who is currently second and just 4.6sec from the lead, wins the rally, then Latvala cannot take the runners-up spot. However, if the Norwegian finishes second, third place for the Ford driver would be sufficient to claim second in the championship.
After yesterday's rain-soaked and windswept action, the weather was more benign today. Bright sunshine and clear skies greeted huge crowds who flocked into the forests, and the gravel tracks dried as the day progressed. Competitors tackled two identical loops of four special stages, before a second pass over the short test on Cardiff waterfront which started the rally on Thursday. The action, which totalled 138.56km, also included a tricky 11km asphalt section on the daunting Epynt military ranges.
Latvala, who lost the lead after hitting a bank and puncturing a tyre on yesterday's final speed test, was quickly on the move this morning. The 25-year-old climbed from sixth to fifth in the opening stage in Radnor when Sebastien Ogier, the other driver fighting for second in the championship, rolled into retirement. He then moved into fourth on the final test in the loop.
He closed the gap on Hirvonen during the afternoon, despite losing a few seconds at the start of the penultimate stage after a problem with his car's launch control system.
"Ogier's accident changed the championship situation," he said. "I had good speed this morning, but the most important thing in these conditions was firstly to stay on the road. I took some massive risks and made some errors. This afternoon I decided that the gap between myself and the two leaders ahead was too big. I wasn't going to catch them and I felt uncomfortable taking those risks, so I drove more calmly this afternoon.
"On the final forest stage I lost time at the start after a problem with the launch control. I was angry and pushed hard. But I had to maintain my common sense and not do anything silly. I really want to finish on the podium tomorrow and hope that's enough for me to take second in the championship. I have a chance of second or third -- but I really want second. I like tomorrow's stages. They're not easy, but they suit my driving," added Latvala.
Hirvonen admitted his driving was 'inconsistent' during the morning, but the 30-year-old climbed into third after Ogier's accident and remained there for the rest of the day. "Sometimes everything seemed to go really well but then at other times I was just too cautious, especially on the Epynt asphalt. It's a question of finding my rhythm, but that has been the problem for most of the year. Having said that, everything was much better than yesterday," he said.
"I'm having a good battle with Jari-Matti, but he seems to be in a different zone. He drove very well and very quickly, although I was pleased with some of my times. On the final stage this morning I saw sheep running across the road and had to slow down briefly," he added.
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr are 12th in the team's other Focus RS WRC. "The conditions were very different from yesterday as the weather was drier, but the stages were actually more slippery," said Al Qassimi.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson urged caution ahead of tomorrow's final leg. "Jari-Matti drove very maturely, especially considering the pressure of the championship. It was also encouraging to see Mikko post fast times and we have two cars in strong positions. But we must remember that tomorrow's Resolfen stage is one of the most difficult of the rally," he said.
News from other Ford teams
Stobart M-Sport Ford drivers Henning Solberg and Stephane Prevot lie sixth in a Focus RS WRC, 1min 48.1sec ahead of team-mates Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin. Both had troublefree days. Monster World Rally Team's Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino were 10th after the morning loop in a Focus RS WRC, but the Americans retired after the opening afternoon stage with a broken rear driveshaft. They will restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules.
The final leg is the shortest and most compact of the rally. After leaving Cardiff at 06.15, drivers face two identical loops of the Resolfen and Margam Park stages in the Vale of Neath, covering 76.14km. Each loop is split by a return to the service park in Cardiff Bay. The rally finishes back there at 15.25.