Latvala leads Rally GB until day turns sour in final speed test BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila led Rally GB for most of today's opening leg through the windswept and rain-soaked forests of...
Latvala leads Rally GB until day turns sour in final speed test
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila led Rally GB for most of today's opening leg through the windswept and rain-soaked forests of central Wales. However, they punctured a tyre on their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after hitting a bank in the day's final speed test, losing more than a minute, and the disappointed Finns returned to the event's Cardiff base in sixth.
Team-mates and fellow countrymen Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie fourth in another Focus RS WRC as treacherous driving conditions affected this final round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Winds neared 100kph as the event began with a short special stage along the waterfront in Cardiff last night. The gales were joined by torrential rain this afternoon as the weather, always the most difficult aspect of this rally, did its best to hinder competitors.
The rally is the final outing for the Focus RS WRC as Ford's official entry car in the WRC, ahead of a new formula being introduced next season. Latvala was intent on ending the car's career on a high note and, after ending last night's stage in fifth, he blasted into the lead on today's opening stage in Hafren Forest.
He dropped a handful of seconds in the following 4.26km Sweet Lamb test after his engine took in water at a river crossing and slid to third. But fastest time in the 27.88km Myherin put the 25-year-old back on top and he ended the morning loop with a 1.4sec advantage.
"The grip changed constantly," he said. "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 watersplash was uphill and it took about 500 metres to clear itself and run properly again."
Latvala extended his lead to 5.2sec before the puncture 5km after the start of the final Myherin stage left him 67.0sec behind tonight. "My windscreen was misting and the visibility was bad and getting worse, because it was also foggy. I approached a right corner over a crest and I didn't turn in early enough and hit the bank. It wasn't until I reached the next junction that I realised the impact had knocked the tyre off the rim," he explained.
"A kilometre before the finish the tyre came off completely, and pulled off a large piece of panel work. It was in that final kilometre that I lost most of the time. The only mechanical damage was to the oil cooler, but we fixed that after the stage finish," added Latvala.
Hirvonen ended the morning loop in sixth, 25.7sec behind his team-mates but the 30-year-old wasn't happy. "The car was great and I felt I drove really well, but the times were disappointing," he said. "My road position wasn't so good and the surface was quite polished, so perhaps that's why I dropped some seconds. It was strange because everything felt so good."
He climbed to fourth this afternoon, ending the day 42.2sec from the lead. "I attacked as hard as I could, I couldn't go any faster. I made a couple of small mistakes in the Sweet Lamb stage when I overshot two hairpins but I didn't lose much time. There was heavy rain on all three stages, and although I've experienced worse in this rally, it wasn't enjoyable," said Hirvonen, who fitted stiffer suspension to his car in advance of tomorrow's leg.
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr are 14th in the team's third Focus RS WRC. "The conditions here provide one of the biggest tests of the year. Some parts of the stages were very exposed and with the weather being so unpredictable it was hard to know what to expect ahead of each stage," said Al Qassimi.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "It was a great start from Jari-Matti and a fantastic drive from him throughout the day, until his final stage problem. He lost a lot of time, but with a big fight going on ahead of him, mistakes will be made and I believe he can still take a good result. Mikko is very disappointed. I hope he can come out tomorrow on different stages and have a good day, but he has a lot of hard work to do."
News from other Ford teams
Stobart M-Sport Ford drivers Henning Solberg and Stephane Prevot lie seventh in a Focus RS WRC, one place and 48.8sec ahead of team-mates Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin. Wilson dropped time in this morning's opening stage after spinning and stalling. Third team members Liu Chao Dong and Anthony McLoughlin retired after a fire at the rear of their car filled the cockpit with smoke. The Chinese driver will return tomorrow under SupeRally rules.
The second leg promises to be equally as demanding. After another 06.00 start, competitors again journey north, this time into the hills of the Brecon Beacons where they will tackle two identical loops of four stages. The day ends after a second pass over the short Cardiff Bay test, drivers finally turning off their engines at 19.31 after 138.56km of action. Perhaps the most difficult challenge will be the 25.14km Four Ways Crychan, which begins with a 11km asphalt section on the Epynt military ranges before tackling the gravel roads of Crychan Forest.