Ford World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila ended the second leg of Rallye Deutschland in second after a day of drama and attrition. Although the Finns encountered difficulties of their own in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, they avoided the serious troubles that sidelined other front-runners to end the penultimate day’s action almost 30sec ahead of their nearest rivals.
Team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson were one of five crews from the top 10 leaderboard to fall foul of the demanding Baumholder military area, east of the rally base of Trier. Second-placed Solberg hit a rock and the rear suspension damage to his Fiesta RS WRC was too severe to carry on.
Today’s leg of this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship was expected to be the toughest of the three-day event – and so it proved. Drivers tackled two identical loops of three asphalt speed tests covering 164.90km over vineyard tracks on the banks of the Mosel river, narrow lanes in the Saarland countryside and daunting kerbstone-lined roads at the tank training area.
With dry weather forecast this morning, Latvala, Solberg and all their rivals opted for Michelin’s hard compound tyres. However, rain unexpectedly fell in the opening 26.54km test among the grapes. The hard rubber was unsuited to the cold and wet asphalt and the Ford duo lost more than 20sec to leader Sébastien Loeb, who started earlier and enjoyed drier conditions.
Both fitted their soft compound spare tyre to the right rear of their Fiesta RS WRCs for the following special stage. With improved grip, Solberg retained second but Latvala dropped 30sec after being caught out by the wet roads and slipped to fifth overall.
“My car was set-up for dry conditions, but it was too hard so we softened the settings before the start,” explained 27-year-old Latvala. “However, I hit some water running across the road before a bend and locked the brakes. The car went straight on into a field and became stuck on the wet grass. I had to manoeuvre backwards and forwards several times before I could continue.”
Both Ford drivers then switched to soft compound tyres for the monster 46.54km Arena Panzerplatte test in Baumholder. Latvala was second fastest to vault to second. However, in doing so he displaced 37-year-old Solberg, who was sidelined around 30km after the start.
“It was my fault,” admitted Solberg. “In a long left corner, the back of the car began to slip and I couldn’t hold the slide. The rear right hit a rock and although we tried to carry on, unfortunately the damage was serious and when the wheel came off we had to stop.
“It’s disappointing because my speed was good and I was so careful all weekend not to make any mistakes. I’ll restart tomorrow and hopefully I’ll be in a position to challenge for bonus points on the final Power Stage,” he added.
With a large gap to the leader and a comfortable advantage over third-placed Mikko Hirvonen, Latvala took the safe option of soft tyres for the first two repeated stages this afternoon as rain again threatened. He consolidated second before switching to hard rubber again for the second pass over the abrasive Panzerplatte test, in which he missed fastest time by just 0.7sec.
“I wanted to play safe and chose the soft tyres in case it rained again,” explained Latvala. “It rained before the stage but the test itself was dry. It cost me a few seconds but nothing like the time I would have lost on hard tyres if it had rained.
“I liked both Panzerplatte stages. I enjoyed the fight for fastest time but I’m disappointed not to have been quickest on at least one of them. I missed out by 0.8sec in the first pass and 0.7sec in the second pass after more than 46km! Having dropped to fifth this morning, I’m happy to be in second. The car was fast enough to allow me to fight at the front, but I lacked consistency at times,” he added.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson was again encouraged by his team’s asphalt pace. “Both drivers showed good speed and this is the most competitive we’ve been in Germany. It’s encouraging for the remaining asphalt rounds. It was disappointing to lose Petter when in a strong position, but I’m confident Jari-Matti can secure his place tomorrow,” he said.
News from other Ford teams
A clean run for Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson enabled the Adapta World Rally Team duo to climb from eighth to fourth in their Fiesta RS WRC. That position was the property of M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk, who excelled to win two stages this afternoon before retiring in the final test after losing a rear wheel when they hit a kerb. They will restart tomorrow under Rally 2 regulations in ninth. Team-mates Evgeny Novikov / Nicolas Klinger are 31st following yesterday’s retirement, their only issues being two overshoots. Daniel Oliveria / Carlos Magalhaes are two places further back in the Brazil World Rally Team car after losing time this morning with a broken driveshaft.
The final leg is short and sharp. After an 08.00 restart, competitors tackle two passes over the 30.76km Dhrontal test in the Mosel vineyards before the final 4.37km Power Stage around the streets of Trier. The finish ceremony takes place at the city’s historic Porta Nigra gate at 15.45.
Source: Ford World Rally Team