Latvala's tactics set up absorbing final day in Jordan Rally
Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila are well-positioned in third after an intriguing tactical finale to the opening day of the shortened Jordan Rally. The Finns deliberately slowed near the end of the final speed test in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car to ensure better conditions in tomorrow's final leg through slippery desert tracks near the Dead Sea.
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are fifth in another Fiesta RS WRC after a tough day. They endured the worst of the slippery conditions this morning, and a power steering problem during the final special stage cost almost minute to leave them out of the victory battle.
This fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship finally started this morning after a 24-hour delay caused by the late arrival of teams' equipment. The ferry transporting the cargo from Trieste in Italy to Haifa in Israel was initially delayed in departing, and then broke down twice en route before finally having to wait outside the port to dock while bad weather subsided.
The delays forced organisers to cancel yesterday's opening leg. The action began today with two identical loops of three gravel tests covering 144.30km in the dramatic sun-kissed landscape near the Dead Sea. Most of the route was below sea level and included two passes over the 41.45km Jordan River test, the longest of the season, which winds along the border between Jordan and Israel.
Both Ford drivers used Michelin's new harder, stronger gravel tyres for the first time and Latvala put their strength to the test on the second stage. "I took the wrong line and went off into the desert, before rejoining the road without any damage. It was a big wake-up call. The tyres are a massive improvement. I'm not as concerned about hitting big stones because they are stronger, and that allows me to cut corners without worrying about what is in the undergrowth," he said.
Latvala was third on all three morning stages to reach the mid-leg service in fourth, just 9.8sec from the lead. He was fastest on the opening two afternoon tests to climb to second. The 30-year-old Finn then played his tactical card to perfection, by deliberately slowing for 20 seconds shortly before the finish of the final stage to drop to third. He is 33.1sec behind leader Sebastien Ogier and 1.5sec behind Sebastien Loeb in second.
I'm very happy with my road position for tomorrow. It will be extremely difficult to win from first in the start order.
As a result Latvala will be third in the start order tomorrow. Conditions will be more advantageous from that position, as both Ogier and Loeb must sweep slippery gravel from the road to leave a cleaner and faster line on which Latvala hopes he can take advantage.
"I'm very happy with my road position for tomorrow. It will be extremely difficult to win from first in the start order. I wanted to be behind Loeb and I achieved that, so a win is my target. I need to be consistent, enjoy a clean run, and develop the same kind of feeling with the car that I had this afternoon. If I can find all three, then I believe I have a good chance," he said.
Hirvonen endured the sweeping role today as he was first in the start order, courtesy of leading the drivers' championship. The 30-year-old Finn dropped 50sec through the morning to hold fifth, although he admitted his driving was partly to blame. "I was too cautious in the opening two stages and half the time I lost was down to my driving, the other half was due to my start position," he said.
"There was so much loose gravel that in the twisty, downhill sections it felt like driving on ball-bearings. The roads are so hard that the tyres roll across the gravel on top, and don't bite into the surface beneath. The harder tyres don't flex on the loose gravel like the previous softer tyres, so it's more difficult to be first on the road.
"The harder rubber means there is less grip under braking, and when there is so much gravel on the surface the car slides through the corner rather than being slowed. Even one position further back in the start order offers a massive benefit in these conditions," added Hirvonen, who maintained fifth despite broken power steering in the long Jordan River test, which cost about 50 seconds.
Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr are eighth in the team's third car. The Team Abu Dhabi driver reported no major problems, but was careful to avoid rocks which 'were bigger than a football'.
Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "We were able to use tactics to put Jari-Matti into a great road position for tomorrow. Mikko had a difficult day at the front of the start order and his day wasn't helped by power steering failure. We're looking for him to consolidate his position now."
News from other Ford teams
M-Sport Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin lie seventh after a troublefree leg, but his team-mates endured a tough day as both retired. Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor went out in stage nine after hitting a rock and damaging the oil sump in their Fiesta RS WRC's engine, while Mads Xstberg and Jonas Andersson stopped in stage 10 with a broken gearbox. Both will restart under SupeRally rules tomorrow. Munchi's Ford World Rally Team's Federico Villagra and Jose Perez Companc are ninth, despite the Argentine duo feeling unhappy with their car's set-up this morning. Dennis Kuipers and Bjorn Degandt are 12th in the FERM Power Tools-backed car.
The final leg is another compact day with 41 percent of the total distance of 281.02km being competitive. After leaving the Dead Sea service park at 07.30, drivers tackle three stages clustered together to the north-east, before a fourth test on the northern shore of the water. That loop is repeated after service, offering a total of 115.26km of competition. The final test is the Power Stage, offering bonus points for the fastest three drivers. The rally finishes at the Dead Sea at 16.13.