Latvala in podium place as New Zealand rally heads into last day BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila go into tomorrow's final leg of Rally New Zealand with their sights fixed on a podium finish. The...
Latvala in podium place as New Zealand rally heads into last day
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila go into tomorrow's final leg of Rally New Zealand with their sights fixed on a podium finish. The Finns lie third in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after today's demanding second leg, which has again delivered excitement and changes aplenty at the top of the leaderboard. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are sixth in another Focus RS WRC.
It was another long day behind the wheel for the 50 surviving competitors, who tackled 155.62km of competition in the northern Waikato region of North Island. They faced two identical loops of four stages, three over flowing gravel roads in the country and one at the new Hampton Downs motor racing circuit. There was only a 15-minute slot in which to service cars midway through the day and, as an additional challenge, all the country tests included asphalt sections.
Temperatures were cool under overcast skies but the rain kept away. As on the opening leg, the dry conditions meant loose gravel on the surface of the fast, flowing cambered roads was a disadvantage to the early starters. Those further down the running order enjoyed a cleaner and faster line after the stones were swept clear.
Latvala, lying second overnight, dropped to third during the opening loop, but quickly regained the place to end the morning 14.4sec from the lead. Despite consistent times during the afternoon, the 25-year-old lost a position to the charging Sebastien Loeb to end the day 33.2sec from the lead.
"The roads were more difficult to drive than I expected," he said. "They were much more slippery. When we made the recce the surface was damp, but today it was totally dry and the grip was different. My weakness came on the middle stage of each loop because my pace notes weren't precise enough and I lost time. I opted to take two spare tyres this afternoon because I was concerned about tyre wear but it was a mistake. The extra weight meant the rear of the car didn't handle so well.
"I would have been happy to be third in the running order tomorrow and 15sec from the lead, but I think 30sec is too much to take back. My priority is to hold onto third and anything else will be a bonus. Tomorrow's stages are notoriously demanding so I don't want to risk what I have," he added.
Hirvonen had a difficult day. Restarting in fifth, just 20.2sec from the lead, the 29-year-old Finn dropped time on the opening test. "About 7km before the finish, the car slid wide, spun and stopped facing the wrong way. I had to drive back down the road briefly to turn round. The back of the car hit a bank and the impact punctured the tyre. I thought I had broken the suspension but fortunately that wasn't the case. If the car slides too wide, then you are driving too fast. I tried to push too hard and made a mistake," he said.
He recovered well to end the morning still in fifth, 38.0sec from the lead. However, he could not produce the top times he needed this afternoon to close the gap and dropped a position to overnight 60.2sec behind.
"I tried so hard but I just can't go any faster. I made a mistake this morning but after that I drove well and really enjoyed the stages. I'm happier with my driving today and a harder suspension set-up was better, but the times just weren't there. It has been a long time since I've been happy with my driving yet found myself in sixth," added the 29-year-old Finn.
News from other Ford teams
Stobart M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin lie seventh in a Focus RS World Rally Car, despite understeer and brake difficulties. Team-mates Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor are eighth, the Norwegian driver still struggling with his car's handling. Munchi's Ford duo Federico Villagra and Jorge Perez Companc climbed into 10th in their Focus RS WRC. Jari Ketomaa and Mika Stenberg continue to head a Ford Fiesta S2000 1-2 in the S-WRC support category.
The final leg is the shortest of the event and is again based on the west coast of North Island, but further south than today. After leaving Auckland at 06.00, drivers tackle two identical loops of two tests on the Tasman Sea coast covering 81.70km. They are split by a short remote service in Raglan. The second stage of the loop is the classic Whaanga Coast, which provides superb picture postcard views over the Tasman from high on the cliffs above.