Latvala fights for podium place in Rallye de France mudbath BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila maintained their good form on asphalt during today's second leg of Rallye de France. The Finns claimed...
Latvala fights for podium place in Rallye de France mudbath
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila maintained their good form on asphalt during today's second leg of Rallye de France. The Finns claimed another speed test win this morning and moved into the battle for a podium place in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. A small mistake in the day's final kilometres cost a handful of seconds but they returned to the rally's Strasbourg base in fourth, just 20sec from the podium, with one day remaining.
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen climbed from sixth after yesterday's opening leg of this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship to fifth in another Focus RS WRC. The Finns again found the slippery conditions difficult to master, but stepped up their pace with second fastest time on the final two special stages.
Today's action was based south-west of Strasbourg and comprised two identical loops of four asphalt stages covering 149.22km. The opening two tests were over narrow vineyard roads near Obernai, while the other two stages were more Alpine in their nature. Persistent rain all morning made the roads treacherously slippery, and cars dragged mud and dirt onto the surface to make conditions even more challenging. Although the rain stopped this afternoon, there was so much mud that stage times were significantly slower than the morning pass.
Latvala, fourth after the opening leg, opted for Pirelli's soft compound PZero tyres all day. He had a tough morning and the 30-year-old Finn dropped to fifth. However, he stormed to fastest time on the morning's final stage, which contained a fast gravel section, to reach the mid-leg service in Strasbourg just 7.5sec behind fourth-placed Petter Solberg.
"I was driving on gravel and that helped. I took some risks but it wasn't possible to cut the corners as much as in other stages, so less dirt was dragged onto the road and they were cleaner. I didn't have a consistent morning. My time on the last stage was great, but if conditions were more even I would have been happier. I think I hesitated a little too much when I didn't know the conditions and that cost me time," added Latvala.
More consistent grip this afternoon gave Latvala more confidence and he climbed to fourth as his battle with Solberg became a fight for a podium place. He dropped 10 seconds on the final stage after a spin near the start. "The second corner was covered in gravel and although I had it in my pace notes I was just going too fast. I went slightly off-line, spun and stalled the engine. I had to reverse several times," he said.
"This afternoon's long stage had so much dirt on the roads that it wasn't asphalt. There was so much mud that I couldn't get the cleaner fluid onto my windscreen quickly enough to see where I was going. I've learned a lot this year about driving on wet and slippery conditions and today it paid off. I want to fight with Solberg for third but I'm not prepared to take risks. I'm thinking about the podium but I also need to see the bigger picture and think about my championship position," added Latvala.
Hirvonen endured a tricky morning and the 30-year-old Finn admitted his pace wasn't what he hoped for. "Even when the road was clean I felt I was waiting for the dirty sections, so perhaps I was too cautious and I lost my rhythm. My position in the start order had a big effect because some sections were just so dirty," he explained.
However, his pace improved dramatically this afternoon and Hirvonen was happier when he returned to Strasbourg for the final overnight halt. "I had the right feeling and confidence in the last two stages. I seem to have worked out how the car behaves in the mud, but it's frustrating it has taken me so long because it has ruined my rally. I finally learned to trust the car in the slippery conditions. There was a great atmosphere with so many spectators that it felt like my home event in Finland," he added.
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr climbed to ninth in the team's other Focus RS WRC, but they spun in the third stage and dropped about 75sec. "We were a couple of kilometres from the end when we spun. There was some damage to the car and we had to get assistance from spectators to push the car back into position. It was frustrating as we lost over a minute," said Al Qassimi, who ended the leg in 13th.
News from other Ford teams
Munchi's Ford drivers Federico Villagra and Diego Curletto moved up to seventh in their Focus RS WRC and they are engrossed in a tight battle with Stobart M-Sport Ford duo Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin. Villagra headed Wilson by 33.1sec after the opening loop, during which Wilson spun. However, Wilson closed the gap to just 2.9sec this evening. Stobart M-Sport Ford team-mates Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino incurred a 1min 40sec penalty when they were late checking out of the service park this morning as the team completed repairs to the hydraulic system that affected the car's gearchange yesterday evening. They lie 16th tonight.
The final day is the shortest of the rally and covers roads of a very different nature to the previous two days. Competitors leave Strasbourg at 07.15 and journey north for two passes through a short test in the streets of Haguenau and two runs over a long test in the Bitche military camp, covering 57.80km. The finish ceremony takes place outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg at 14.59.