Latvala sets the pace during second day of Rally de España
Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were fastest in today’s second leg of Rally de España. They won three of the six asphalt speed tests in a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car to retain a strong second place in this 12th and penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Latvala’s performance, which he described as ‘the best day of my career on asphalt’, brought extra joy to co-driver Anttila. Shortly after midnight last night his wife, Marita, gave birth to their second child – a girl. The Finns’ team-mates and joint championship leaders, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, maintained third in another Fiesta RS WRC.
After yesterday’s predominantly gravel-based competition, today’s action was located on sealed-surface roads in hills west of the rally base of Salou, south of Barcelona. Drivers tackled two identical loops of three special stages covering 143.54km, including the marathon 45.97km El Priorat at the start of each loop - the second longest test of the season.
After the rigours of yesterday’s dusty loose surface tracks, the team’s mechanics transformed the Fiesta RS WRCs into asphalt specification ahead of the final two legs. Conditions today could not have been more different with hanging dust clouds replaced by clear blue skies and warm autumn sunshine, which attracted huge crowds into the hills.
Latvala began the day 30.6sec behind leader and asphalt expert Sébastien Loeb. He opted for Michelin’s hard compound tyres and two second fastest times preceded a stage win on the morning’s final test. The 26-year-old then won the first and last stages this afternoon to return to Salou for the final overnight halt having reduced the gap to Loeb to 27.6sec.
“That was the best day of my career on asphalt,” said Latvala. “My driving on this surface is improving all the time. It’s smoother and I used every centimetre of the road. I’ve never driven such a good car on asphalt as this Fiesta. It’s so stable and handled like a racing car. When it feels as good as that I have the confidence to drive as if I was on a race track.
“Sébastien came up to me after the last stage to shake my hand and congratulate me on my time. It was a great feeling to have the seven-time world champion congratulate me for beating him on his favourite surface. Tomorrow I will try to pressurise him. I can’t make up the time in normal circumstances but I will push hard and see what happens,” he added.
Hirvonen, who also chose hard compound rubber, enjoyed a troublefree day, but the 31-year-old Finn was disappointed not to be able to set a faster pace. However, he ended the day in style with second fastest time in the final stage behind Latvala to seal a Ford one-two.
“I was happy with the feeling of the car, the set-up was excellent and I thought my driving was perfect so I don’t understand why I lost time this morning,” said Hirvonen. “This afternoon my pace was better, especially on the final two stages. The only thing I did differently was to rev the engine higher and use lower gears, so perhaps that helped.
“I kept my position and that was important with championship points in mind. The Power Stage will be vital tomorrow, with bonus points available. It seems as if the outcome of the title will not be decided until the final round in Britain next month, so any points that I can take from the Power Stage could be crucial at the end of the season,” he added. Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr are 16th in the team’s other Fiesta RS WRC. “My driving improved this afternoon and although I think I can do more, I’m happy. Tomorrow I hope I can drive in the same way that I ended today,” said the Abu Dhabi driver.
Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the speed of Latvala and the Fiesta RS WRC. “It was a sensational day for Jari-Matti and I believe he has come of age on asphalt today. They were the fastest combination and both Jari-Matti and Mikko stayed out of trouble and did what was asked of them. Mikko did the job he needed to and tomorrow we need to consolidate what we have to maximise his championship challenge,” said Wilson.
News from other Ford teams
The leaderboard showed few changes during a quiet day. Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson remain seventh for the M-Sport Stobart Ford team, despite overheating brakes this morning. Team-mates Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor lie one place behind, the Norwegian driver struggling with a heavy cold. Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin stayed in 10th in the team’s other car despite ‘heavy’ steering this afternoon and the team fitted a new steering rack in service this evening. FERM Power Tools duo Dennis Kuipers / Frederic Miclotte climbed to 11th, while Munchi’s Ford’s Federico Villagra / Diego Curletto moved up to 19th. Monster World Rally Team’s Ken Block / Alex Gelsomino restarted under SupeRally rules after retiring yesterday and ended the day in 31st.
The final leg is the shortest of the rally as drivers face 102.62km of competition on roads closer to Salou. They leave the town at 06.00 to tackle two identical loops of three asphalt stages. The final test, the 4.32km Coll de la Teixeta, forms the Power Stage with bonus points on offer to the fastest three drivers. The finish on Salou seafront is held at 15.14.