Ford targets solid points finish after tricky second leg in Mexico BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team climbed the leaderboard during today's second leg of Rally Mexico to put itself on course for a valuable points finish in this second round of...
Ford targets solid points finish after tricky second leg in Mexico
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team climbed the leaderboard during today's second leg of Rally Mexico to put itself on course for a valuable points finish in this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila lie fourth in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car with team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in fifth, although both pairings were disappointed not to climb further on the longest leg of this three-day event.
Ford's Finns experienced a tough opening day yesterday when both were early starters and played the role of unwilling road sweepers to create a clear driving line through the loose gravel. Both enjoyed a better start position today and had the benefit of cleaner roads, as the drivers ahead swept the stones from the dirt surface to leave a faster line. Although Hirvonen and Latvala were second and third fastest on today's leg, they did not regain as much time on those ahead as they hoped.
Overcast skies greeted competitors as they departed the rally base in Leon, 400km north-west of Mexico City, early this morning and while the sun appeared sporadically, temperatures were significantly cooler than pre-event. The day comprised two identical loops of three long gravel speed tests north and east of the city. As yesterday, the morning loop ended with a short asphalt special stage close to the service park and the afternoon closed with two head-to-head duels at the race circuit on the edge of the city. The nine tests covered 158.82km.
Latvala was fifth after the first day and the 24-year-old Finn climbed to fourth on the opening stage. He dropped around 15 seconds after stalling and puncturing a tyre and ended the morning frustrated at not having regained more time on his rivals. Latvala decided to stiffen the suspension settings on his Focus RS WRC and the impact was immediate. He was second fastest on the next two stages and an error free afternoon ensured he returned to Leon happier with his performance.
"It was a much better afternoon than morning," said Latvala. "I think our set-up was too soft and I felt more confident throughout the afternoon's stages. I tried to drive more aggressively after lunch and my times were better but I'm still frustrated. I struggled in fast uphill sections and in long, slow bends.
"I dropped a few seconds this morning when the car stalled and then I punctured the front right tyre on the same stage. It was a slow puncture so I could continue to the finish but I lost about 15 seconds. This morning it seemed that the harder I pushed, the more the car slid wide in the corners and the more time I lost. The changes I made at lunchtime were a big step in the right direction," he added.
Championship leader Hirvonen also climbed a place in the opening stage with second fastest time. Despite also puncturing a tyre, he closed the overnight 30.2sec margin from Latvala to 10.3sec after the morning loop. He, too, stiffened his car's suspension and set three top three times this afternoon, despite feeling unwell, to end the day 16.0sec behind his team-mate and fellow countryman.
"This morning was better than yesterday, and this afternoon was better than this morning, but I still don't have a perfect feeling with the car," said Hirvonen. "I gained time with my road position, but not enough. I changed the damper settings on the car after the first stage to improve the feeling but then the rear left tyre punctured on the next stage. It was a twisty test so I was able to continue without changing the tyre, but I drove for 15km like that.
"After hardening the suspension at lunchtime the car felt much better in the bumpy sections and that gave me more confidence. I've felt quite unwell this afternoon in my stomach. It made no difference on the stages because the adrenaline kicked in, but I felt weaker and weaker on the road sections as the afternoon went on," he added.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson admitted that the team's target was now to maximise its manufacturers' championship points haul. "We lost too much time yesterday which we were unable to regain today. Our pace improved, but not by enough, so now we need to ensure we can bring both cars home in good points-scoring positions," he said.
News from other Ford teams
Stobart M-Sport Ford drivers Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor are sixth in their Focus RS WRC. Despite brake problems in the opening stage of each loop, the Norwegian driver posted a second and three third fastest times to lie 25.3sec behind Hirvonen. Munchi's Ford duo Federico Villagra and Jorge Perez Companc climbed to seventh in their Focus RS WRC. Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin retired on the day's opening stage when they went off the road on a left bend 2km before the end of the stage and became stuck on rocks. Monster World Rally Team's Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino also went out on the opening test when they braked late into a corner and their Focus RS WRC slid into a ditch, breaking the front left suspension.
The final leg comprises just three stages after the pre-event cancellation of the day's second test, the 7.05km Sauz Seco, for safety reasons. Drivers restart at 07.45 and after two stages in the hills north and east of Leon, they face a final pass over the super special stage at the city's race circuit. Competitors return to Leon for the finish ceremony at 13.00 after a further 51.49km.