DRAMATIC START IN WALES AS LATVALA LEADS RALLY GB FOR BP FORD ABU DHABI Cardiff, WALES, 12 November, 2010: Tension filled the air at the start of Wales Rally GB this morning as the BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver Jari-Matti Latvala opened proceedings...
DRAMATIC START IN WALES AS LATVALA LEADS RALLY GB FOR BP FORD ABU DHABI
Cardiff, WALES, 12 November, 2010: Tension filled the air at the start of Wales Rally GB this morning as the BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver Jari-Matti Latvala opened proceedings with a stage win, taking the lead and providing the makings of an exciting finale to FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) in the forests of mid-Wales.
The BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver, who has two WRC wins already this season, clearly embraced his battle for the runners' up position in the WRC Drivers' Championship as he out drove his rivals Sebastien Ogier and Petter Solberg, establishing a slender 1.4 second lead in the three-way tussle for second.
With his best ever WRC finish in his sights, it was no surprise to see Latvala at the top of the leaderboard from the very start. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-backed driver was fastest by a single second on the opening 32.14km speed test in Hafren in his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. But, nail biting drama quickly unfolded for the young Finn's supporters as they witnessed him immediately loose the lead when his vehicle took water into the engine in the 4.26km Sweet Lamb stage. Latvala dropped into third, but remained a mere 1.6 seconds from the front runner, Citroen's Sebastian Loeb.
A determined Latvala attacked the final stage of the morning, a slippery 27.88km Myherin, to take his second stage win and reach the service area in Builth Wells back in first position and 1.4 seconds ahead of the rest of the WRC pack.
"The lead is still slender, but it was a good start," said Latvala. "The grip changed constantly. Sometimes the road was soft and gave good grip, but in other places the surface was hard and polished, and I drove closer to the ditches to try to find better traction. My only problem was in Sweet Lamb when the engine took in some water. The section after the water splash was uphill and it took about 500 metres to clear itself and run properly again. I need to brake more at that point this afternoon."
Meanwhile, Latvala's BP Ford Abu Dhabi teammates Mikko Hirvonen and Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi provided a solid first morning in the final rally of the year, with Hirvonen lying in sixth and Al Qassimi in 15th.
Abu Dhabi's Al Qassimi, who continues to build upon his status as the emirate's most successful WRC driver in terms of points scored, pushed on through the harsh Welsh weather, as high winds and overnight rain added to the traditionally tough rally challenge. The Emirati rally ace has his eyes on a top ten finish in order to beat this 12th place finish in the 2009 WRC Drivers' Championship, which he has currently equalled.
"The conditions here provide one of the biggest tests of the year. Some parts of the stages are very exposed and with the weather being so unpredictable it is hard to know what to expect ahead of each stage," commented Al Qassimi. "This morning has been about getting confidence on the slippery terrain and I will push a little harder in the re-run of the stages this afternoon."
In the Fiesta SportTrophy international (FSTi), the Abu Dhabi Junior driver Majed Al Shamsi, is lying in third after the opening three stages as brake problems with his Ford Fiesta R2 dampened the start of his campaign.
The future rally star currently sits in fourth overall in the FSTi Championship, after claiming his maiden win in Portugal and a second place finish in Germany. The up-and-coming talent, discovered during open auditions held by ADTA in 2007, has had a mixed second season in the FSTi and is determined to fight for a podium spot here in Wales in his pursuit of the title.
"Rally GB is notoriously tough, but I have developed my skills considerably since I drove here for the first time last year. The brake problems are a disappointing set-back, but we are at the early stages for this event and anything can happen," commented Al Shamsi.
The action continues this afternoon with a re-run of the morning's stages.