LATVALA SPEARHEADS BP FORD ABU DHABI'S SPANISH INQUISTION UAE's Al Qassimi Chasing Points-Scoring Finish Salou, Spain. 23 October 2010: BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala is on course for a well-earned podium finish in Rally de...
LATVALA SPEARHEADS BP FORD ABU DHABI'S SPANISH INQUISTION UAE's Al Qassimi Chasing Points-Scoring Finish
Salou, Spain. 23 October 2010: BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala is on course for a well-earned podium finish in Rally de Espana, after the Finn reached the halfway point of the FIA World Rally Championship's (WRC) penultimate round in third-place.
After nine passes of the 16-stage, Catalonia-based event, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) backed Ford squad's lead driver, Mikko Hirvonen, is running fifth, while the UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, who lay 12th overnight in the team's third car, has reaped the benefits of consistent stage times to sit 9th.
With the Spanish fixture's second leg running on predominantly sealed-surface stages, all three BP Ford Abu Dhabi cars opted to switch their gravel specification set-ups to asphalt-tuned specs for the morning hat-trick of passes.
With two loops of three stages, totalling more than 125 competitive kilometres, facing the WRC field, third overnight Latvala, the squad's form driver, was forced to make further in-car adjustments after he dropped a position on SS7 Santa Marina, the opening test.
It was, however, a temporary demotion; the narrow, bendy country tracks of SS8 La Mussara proving kinder to Latvala. The Finn regained his podium position when Citroen's Sebastian Ogier -- running second at the time - dropped to 17th courtesy of a broken rear suspension. Latvala retained third during SS9 Riudecanyes.
"The set-up of the car was far too hard and it felt really nervous on every bump in the first stage," he said. "It was difficult to drive and I didn't have much confidence, so I altered the damper settings before the next stage. The car handled better but it wasn't perfect so I'm going to fit softer springs for this afternoon which should made an improvement."
With a trio of top five finishes in the morning loop, Hirvonen, enjoying a favourable road order position, returned to midday service only 12secs adrift of Citroen's Dani Sordo in fourth.
Meanwhile, Al Qassimi's safety-first approach continued to serve him well. Ever-improving stage finishes helped the Emirati steadily claw back positions as he surged to ninth fastest in SS7, eighth fastest in SS8 and seventh quickest time in SS9. Al Qassimi reached service a mere 24.8seconds behind Henning Solberg.
Having manoeuvred to within sight of the drivers' points scoring positions, Al Qassimi is confident he can match -- and possibly surpass - his season's best finish of eighth.
"It's been tricky out there, there are lot of tight bends and it is still a little difficult to find a steady rhythm," said Al Qassimi. "It's going well though and I'm happy with my stage times. Hopefully I can produce more competitive times and challenge Henning for eighth."
Elsewhere, Team Abu Dhabi's junior drivers, Majed Al Shamsi and Bader Al Jabri, returned to Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) duty aiming to solidify the top-four positions they held overnight.
The fledgling members of ADTA's grassroots development programme, an initiative aimed at nurturing domestic motorsport talent, progressed well, reaching the event's midpoint in second and third, respectively.
Al Jabri, second in the Ford-only series' overall rankings, was particularly impressive. The youngster's error-free performance in his Fiesta R2 keeping him comfortably on track for a podium finish.
"It has been hard making the adjustment from gravel to asphalt today, but it has been a great opportunity to learn new skills and try new techniques," said the 25-year-old. "The gravel conditions are more familiar though, so I hope to continue pushing in the afternoon re-runs and the final day."