Latvala fights for podium as German battle warms up BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila completed today's gruelling second leg of Rallye Deutschland in fourth place. The Finns blended speed and...
Latvala fights for podium as German battle warms up
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila completed today's gruelling second leg of Rallye Deutschland in fourth place. The Finns blended speed and caution in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car during an exciting battle for the final podium position which will continue into tomorrow's final day. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen retired from fifth in a similar car with transmission problems but will restart tomorrow in eighth.
Today was one of the toughest days of the FIA World Rally Championship season, of which Rallye Deutschland is the ninth round of 13. Drivers tackled 185.94km of competition through the woodlands of Saarland and the daunting Baumholder military training area, split into two identical loops of four speed tests.
The schedule included two passes over the 48km Panzerplatte, the longest special stage of the year, where the roads are more accustomed to hosting tanks. They were lined with huge concrete kerb stones, known as hinkelsteins, which are designed to keep tanks on the asphalt and ready to punish the slightest mistake by rally drivers.
Fast, wide asphalt contrasted with bumpy, abrasive concrete which demanded high durability from Pirelli's tyres, especially as air temperatures reached 29ºC and the mercury on the road surface climbed to 47ºC. Soft compound tyres were the choice of both Latvala and Hirvonen early this morning, but as temperatures rose, both Ford crews opted for harder rubber for the rest of the day.
Latvala started the day in third, 6.2sec ahead of Sébastien Ogier, who was in turn 3.6sec clear of Hirvonen. Latvala stretched his advantage to 7.7sec as the trio battled for every second before a spin on the first pass through Panzerplatte cost 20sec and a position on the leaderboard.
"I came down a long straight into a long left bend and it was difficult to see the corner. It was marked too fast in my pace notes and I went too wide. I saw the hinkelsteins on the side of the road and braked hard. The car spun into a bank and I lost time while I reversed back onto the road," said the 25-year-old.
The battle continued during the second pass over the stages this afternoon and Latvala returned to the rally base in historic Trier, Germany's oldest city, 16.6sec behind Ogier. "When the road was clean I had a good feeling. Most of the second run through Panzerplatte was like that and I drove really well. Apart from my spin the day went well, but there are still areas in which we can improve. As long as there are kilometres remaining, I will fight to try to regain third, but I can't push any harder than I have done today," he said.
Hirvonen struggled for confidence this morning and completed the opening loop 13.3sec behind his team-mate. The 30-year-old Finn made changes to the set-up of his Focus RS WRC and felt far more comfortable this afternoon. However, his day ended near the finish of the penultimate stage.
"The car was in first gear at a hairpin bend when it lost all drive. We pushed the car downhill and off the road. But we couldn't find what was wrong so there was no way we could continue. It was disappointing because I felt happier this afternoon and my confidence had returned. I enjoyed the driving, which wasn't the case in the morning when I didn't have a good feeling with the car. I lacked confidence and wanted to make the car more precise. Soft tyres were definitely the right choice for the opening three stages but I didn't like the feeling with them," said Hirvonen.
The team traced the problem to a broken input shaft to the transmission and after restoring the car to full health, Hirvonen will restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules.
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr continued to recover following yesterday's accident, moving up to 11th in the team's other Focus RS WRC, despite a half spin on the morning's second stage. "My strategy was to push hard on the fast roads and adopt a more cautious style in the twistier sections and it worked well," said Al Qassimi.
News from other Ford teams
Stobart M-Sport Ford's Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin are seventh in a Focus RS WRC, despite minor brake problems on both runs through the long Panzerplatte stage. Team-mates Francois Duval and Denis Giraudet were fifth in a similar car before rolling into retirement near the end of the final stage. They will not restart tomorrow. Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino climbed to eighth in the Monster World Rally Team's Focus RS WRC.
The final day returns to the vineyards of the Mosel, the location of yesterday's opening leg. Drivers leave Trier at 06.15 for two identical loops of two stages among the grapes on the banks of the river before a spectacular final test through the streets of Trier. The finish ceremony is beneath the Roman city's Porta Nigra gate at 15.45.