Ford Racing press release
Ford’s French focus firmly fixed on Hirvonen title challenge
Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team climbed the Rallye de France leaderboard today with a consistent performance focused on improving its world championship title challenge. Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila ended the second leg in fourth place in a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, with team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen one place behind in fifth in a similar car.
The fight for the FIA World Rally Championship drivers’ title was thrown open following the retirement of Sébastien Loeb yesterday. With Hirvonen just 15 points from the lead, the Ford Abu Dhabi duo concentrated on consolidating the 31-year-old Finn’s potential points haul rather than risking all in pursuit of podium places.
The second leg of this 11th round of the series headed south of the rally base of Strasbourg for two identical loops of four asphalt speed tests in the Vosges mountains and vineyards near Colmar. The day ended with a special stage through the streets of Mulhouse.
After a misty early morning, temperatures climbed to 28ºC and Michelin’s hard compound tyres were the obvious choice for both Latvala and Hirvonen for the 148.39km of competition.
Latvala restarted fifth and the 26-year-old Finn ended the morning loop by closing a 19.3sec gap to pass Kris Meeke for fourth. Conditions were tricky this afternoon as the roads were littered with dirt and gravel dragged onto the surface during the morning, but Latvala posted top three times on all five stages, including a victory on the penultimate test, to maintain his grip on fourth.
“My speed was good but I’m still lacking consistency on this surface,” admitted Latvala. “I made small mistakes, nothing major, on every stage this morning and found it tough to get a clean run. I read the road surface and I understand how the grip changes. But I need to work more on that because I’m not taking in that information as fast as I need to.
“I pushed harder this afternoon and my confidence improved. I want to take that into tomorrow and translate it into my driving, so that I can improve from being a good asphalt driver into an excellent one. We worked well as a team today and that’s satisfying,” he added.
Hirvonen restarted in sixth and despite struggling for confidence, he matched the pace of those around him over the morning loop. When Meeke crashed out in the afternoon’s opening test, Hirvonen immediately called off the chase of those ahead and eased his pace with championship points uppermost in his mind.
“I struggled for speed this morning because I couldn’t find the limit of the grip, and it affected my confidence,” he explained. “But I’m still here working towards obtaining the points I need so in that sense, it’s fine. There are three cars at the front fighting and there’s no way I can catch them, so I’m trying to secure my place and take the points. At this stage of the season, all points are valuable.
“I couldn’t find the rhythm I wanted and when Meeke made a mistake, I didn’t see any reason to push any more so I measured my pace. There are still two rallies to go after this, but I have a great chance to close on the championship leader and it would be stupid to throw it away. There are bonus points available in the Power Stage tomorrow so I want to perfect my car set-up for that,” he added.
Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr climbed from 16th to 14th in the team’s other Fiesta RS WRC. The Team Abu Dhabi duo enjoyed a troublefree day, despite facing roads made dirty by the passage of cars ahead of them.
Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said the team accomplished as much as they could considering their restart positions. “The leading cars were evenly matched but I feel we’re in the best position to put Mikko closer to the top of the championship ahead of the final two rounds. Mikko knows he has to finish, and he knows he has to finish in the points to preserve his title bid,” he said.
News from other Ford teams
FERM Power Tools pair Dennis Kuipers / Frederic Miclotte headed the privately-entered Fiesta RS WRC teams in sixth place after a troublefree day. M-Sport Stobart Ford drivers Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor are eighth but team-mates Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson slipped back to ninth after stopping to change a puncture this morning and going off the road briefly this afternoon. Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin lie 12th, after puncturing a tyre this afternoon. Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet retired after hitting a chicane this morning and damaging their car too much to continue. They will restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules. Monster World Rally Team’s Ken Block / Alex Gelsomino are 11th, despite puncturing a tyre after hitting a roadside pole this morning.
The final day covers just 40.66km of competition. After leaving Strasbourg at 06.20, drivers face two identical loops of three short asphalt stages. The final test of each lap runs through the streets of Haguenau, and the second pass forms the live TV Power Stage, with bonus points available for the fastest three drivers,