BP FORD ABU DHABI READY TO ATTACK TRICKY, MIXED SURFACE SPANISH CHALLENGE Salou, Spain. 22 October 2010: BP Ford Abu Dhabi's gravel specialists, Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen, signalled their attacking intent during today's intriguing...
BP FORD ABU DHABI READY TO ATTACK TRICKY, MIXED SURFACE SPANISH CHALLENGE
Salou, Spain. 22 October 2010: BP Ford Abu Dhabi's gravel specialists, Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen, signalled their attacking intent during today's intriguing opening leg of Rally de Espana -- the penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship's (WRC).
The pair, running third and fifth retrospectively, ignited their dual podium challenges by taking advantage of the new-look asphalt sections of the Catalan event - traditionally a sealed-surface round.
With a mere 24.5 seconds separating the top five drivers, the UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, driving the Abu Dhabi crew's third car, sits in 12th place.
The Salou-based rally kicked off with arguably the toughest stage on the Spanish itinerary - the 35.94km Terra Alta pass. On a complex, interchanging blend of surfaces, the three BP Ford Abu Dhabi cars -- running on gravel set-ups -- struggled to find the necessary grip.
Latvala, the squad's form driver with two WRC wins this term, was second fastest across Terra Alta, finishing just 2.7 seconds adrift of Citroen's 60-time WRC winner, Sebastian Loeb. The 25-year old Finn maintained his pace over the next two stages and entered midday service 1.2 seconds off second-placed Frenchman, Sebastian Ogier.
"A lot of gravel was pulled onto the asphalt by the cars ahead of us and I didn't expect so much," he said. "It surprised me and spoiled my driving, and that's where I lost time. I need to be more patient and not push so hard, because when I do the car understeers. The set-up is great, the improvement needs to come from me. It was a demanding morning, with fog adding to the difficulties, but if I can remove my small mistakes, then I think it can be a good afternoon."
Having stressed the need for accurate pace notes prior to the event, Al Qassimi relied on his experienced Ulster co-driver, Michael Orr, to guide him through the narrow gravel stages of stage two - the 14.9km La Ribera d'Ebre. Thick, bush-lined roads and abrasive surface conditions again prompted a cautious approach through the asphalt-gravel mix of Les Garrigues, the 12.07km third stage.
The pair's consistent performances yielded three consecutive 12th place stage finishes and, having reached service just 30seconds outside the top 10, Al Qassimi was confident of upping his pace in the afternoon's repeat loop.
"There was a lot of loose gravel sitting on top of the roads, the cars running in front of us had also swept more out on to the surface, which made getting the grip with our tyres quite hard," said Al Qassimi. "It has been good to have an opening gravel day though and hopefully I'll improve my position during the re-run."
Meanwhile, Bader Al Jabri and Majed Al Shamsi, competing for ADTA's Junior Driver Development team in the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi), copied Al Qassimi's safety-first approach in their own first day pushes.
Aspiring champion Al Jabri, currently second in the FSTi standings, focused on driving accurately, avoiding mistakes, and cementing a competitive position to launch a challenge on his preferred asphalt surface stages which run tomorrow and Sunday.
"The first leg is about getting valuable experience on mixed surface terrains. I haven't had much exposure to these conditions, so it is very beneficial for my education and development. For me it's about establishing a base pace and building on that for the rest of the rally," said Al Jabri.
At midday service Al Jabri was placed third and Al Shamsi fourth in the FSTi.
In addition to the first leg's afternoon repeat of stages one-to-three, a further 10 stages -- six on Saturday and four on Sunday -- round-out the Rally de Espana schedule.