Rally de Portugal
Latvala retains podium place after tough day for Ford in Portugal
Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team remains on course for a podium finish in Rally de Portugal despite both drivers suffering heavy time losses during today's second leg. Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila are third in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, with team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen fifth in a similar car with one day remaining of this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Overnight leader Latvala remained in the midst of the battle for victory until a broken driveshaft on the penultimate speed test ended his hopes. Hirvonen, second after the opening leg, dropped back with a puncture this morning and then broken rear suspension this afternoon.
Overnight rain dampened the dusty gravel roads in the hills above the Algarve coastline, where competitors tackled two identical loops of three special stages covering 148.10km. Although conditions remained overcast for much of the day, the roads dried this morning to leave a layer of slippery loose gravel on the surface.
That handicapped Latvala, who was first in the start order and swept the roads clean during the opening loop to the benefit of those behind. However, the damp sections helped Latvala contain the time loss and he only yielded his lead on the final special stage of the morning.
"I wasn't afraid of running first in the worst of the conditions," he said. "I was happy with the first two stages but the last was more difficult then I expected. The roads near the end were covered in red gravel, which was like ball bearings and very slippery. The clean line from the recce was tiny. I tried to drive in it but it was impossible. I knew we would lose time being first on the road but, apart from the last test, it wasn't so bad."
Conditions were more even when the stages were repeated this afternoon, but shortly after the midpoint of the penultimate test a broken front right driveshaft slowed the Finn. With reduced drive on his Fiesta RS WRC, Latvala dropped 25sec. He was unable to make repairs before the final test and when he then had to stop to change a slow puncture, Latvala lost a further 3min 30sec.
"The outer joint on the right front driveshaft broke about 5km from the end of the stage. After the finish I altered the settings to lock the differential as much as possible. Unfortunately I didn't have time to check my tyres as well, and I felt a slow puncture on the rear left which I stopped to change," he said.
"I was fighting for victory and I'm really disappointed. But I can take a podium and I'm still motivated to do that tomorrow and try to take some bonus points on the Power Stage," added Latvala.
Hirvonen punctured a front right tyre early in the second stage and dropped almost two minutes as he stopped to change the wheel. He slipped to fourth, but lost a further minute on the final stage when he limped through much of the 22.56km test with broken rear suspension. He returned to the rally base in Faro in fifth, but just 5.7sec behind fourth-placed Matthew Wilson.
"A sharp rock came through the sidewall of the tyre," he said. "We made a good change and were quickly up to full speed again. But I was unlucky this afternoon when the linkage on the rear suspension broke. I'm unsure why. I didn’t feel anything but perhaps a rock hit the link and caused the breakage. After the puncture I decided to drive at a steady speed, without taking risks so it's disappointing.
"I need to target the Power Stage tomorrow to try to take extra points. It won't be easy because it's a complicated test and it's not the easiest in which to push hard, but it would be a big boost to take additional points," added Hirvonen.
Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr maintained their overnight 10th in the team's third Fiesta RS WRC until they retired after hitting a large rock on the afternoon's opening stage. The impact broke the car's rear suspension.
Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "The pace of both drivers this morning was good, but our problems mean we are too far from the lead to challenge for victory. Tomorrow we must consolidate what we have."
News from other Ford teams
M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team's Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin climbed to fourth in their Ford Fiesta RS WRC, moving ahead of team-mates Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor, who dropped more than two minutes this afternoon changing a puncture. Team-mates Mads Ostberg and Jonas Andersson retired before the penultimate stage with power steering troubles. Munchi's Ford's Federico Villagra and Jose Diaz remain eighth in their Fiesta RS WRC, while FERM Power Tools duo Dennis Kuipers and Frederic Miclotte climbed into 10th in their similar car.
The final leg contains a sting in the tail with two passes over the longest stage of the rally. Cars depart Faro at 07.10 for two identical loops of two tests covering 104.86km. The leading competitors will tackle the second loop in reverse order. The 31.04km Santana da Serra stage ends each loop, and the second pass will form the Power Stage, which offers bonus points to the fastest drivers. Competitors reach the finish in Faro at 15.09.