WRC wrap: Latvala claims dramatic Rally New Zealand victory Jari-Matti Latvala has described his victory on Rally New Zealand as "unbelievable" after he edged out Sebastien Ogier for first place by 2.4 seconds in what equalled the third closest...
WRC wrap: Latvala claims dramatic Rally New Zealand victory
Jari-Matti Latvala has described his victory on Rally New Zealand as "unbelievable" after he edged out Sebastien Ogier for first place by 2.4 seconds in what equalled the third closest finish to a world championship rally.
The Ford pilot and his co-driver Miikka Anttila started the final Whaanga Coast stage 6.2 seconds behind Ogier. But when Ogier spun and stalled his Citroen C4 three corners from the end of the last test, Latvala was able to secure his first win since Rally d'Italia-Sardegna almost 12 months ago.
The dramatic last stage provided another twist to the final day in New Zealand after Sebastien Loeb had crept into the lead following the opening Te Hutewai stage only to crash into a tree on the very next stage. The delay cost him almost 50 seconds and with it any chance of his fourth win of the campaign after his epic recovery drive from seventh place.
At the final service halt in Auckland, Latvala said: "This is unbelievable. I spoke to [Ford team boss] Malcolm Wilson before the start of the last stage and he just told me to keep going like I had been. I tried not to be too hard at the start in case I made a mistake. At the last split I realised I was 2.7s down so then I did try. But at the end I could not believe it."
Ogier's second place might not have been the reward he deserved following an exemplary display on his first Rally New Zealand although he received plenty of plaudits over the course of the weekend after he equalled his best WRC finish thus far.
"We can't be disappointed when you look at what we have achieved," said Ogier's co-driver Julien Ingrassia. "It was a very good rally, a fantastic place and incredible stages. It was a left/right sequence, second or third gear where we tapped a bank and spun. Unfortunately we stalled the engine and lost a lot of time."
Loeb's eventual third place keeps the six-time world champion at the top of the drivers' standings although his lead has been trimmed from 40 to 36 points over new second-place pilot Latvala.
Petter Solberg, who had been second in the points prior to the start of the rally, was in third when he crashed heavily on the final stage, taking out an electricity pylon in the process. Fortunately both Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills were uninjured.
It was a case of what might have been for Ford team leader Mikko Hirvonen, who could only manage fourth overall following a frustrating showing. "It's a fantastic result for the team and for Jari-Matti," said Hirvonen. "If it wasn't for me doing the wrong set-up on Friday and my mistake yesterday the result could have been different."
Behind fifth-placed Dani Sordo, Matthew Wilson completed the top six in his Focus with Stobart M-Sport team-mate Henning Solberg seventh. Argentine Federico Villagra was the last of the World Rally Car finishers in ninth overall.