Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team press release
Latvala and Hirvonen keep Ford on top in Rally Australia
Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team retained first and second positions in today's second leg of Rally Australia. Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen traded places in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars, with Latvala ending the day 22.7sec ahead of opening leg leader Hirvonen.
Conditions could not have been more different from yesterday. In contrast to the rain which made the clay-surfaced dirt roads slimy and treacherously slippery, blue skies and warm sunshine made driving much easier. The roads south of the east coast rally base of Coffs Harbour, midway between Sydney and Brisbane, were mostly dry with damp patches in the forests beneath the dense tree cover.
Competitors in this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship tackled two identical loops of four speed tests in Nambucca and Bellingen shires. The day ended with two final runs over the short asphalt special stages overlooking the Tasman Sea in the heart of Coffs Harbour, providing a total of 146.54km of competition.
As overnight leader, Hirvonen headed the start order and while the damper areas provided good grip, the drier sections were covered in loose gravel. His Fiesta RS WRC swept the slippery stones from the surface to leave a cleaner and faster line for Latvala behind.
My driving wasn't perfect this afternoon, but the roads had a fantastic rhythm and I really enjoyed them.
Latvala, who began the day 7.0sec behind his colleague, took full advantage in the opening test and fastest time by more than eight seconds promoted the 26-year-old Finn into the lead. He went on to complete a clean sweep of stage victories in the morning to build a 17.2sec margin over Hirvonen.
The passage of cars in the national and historic categories further down the order ensured the roads were even dirtier when they were repeated this afternoon. With the Ford duo under no pressure from behind, Latvala did not need to take risks and measured his pace through the remaining stages.
"I didn't drive cautiously this morning, but I didn't take any risks either," said Latvala. "My driving wasn't perfect this afternoon, but the roads had a fantastic rhythm and I really enjoyed them. There was a good spirit in the car all day because it was Miikka's birthday and I hope that leading the rally tonight was a good present for him!
"First and second is a great position for the team to be in tonight but there's still a long way to go, so we must avoid risks and manage our pace correctly tomorrow. Concentrating fully on my driving will be the most important thing. If I can do that, then I hope the rest will take care of itself," said Latvala.
Despite having to sweep the roads, 31-year-old Hirvonen was twice second fastest this morning. While keeping a wary eye on the pace of third-placed Petter Solberg, he continued to set a strong pace throughout the afternoon to complete the day 36.8sec clear of the Norwegian.
"The roads were much drier than we expected after yesterday's rain and first in the start order was a slippery place to be," he said. "Even in the forest areas the roads were only damp, rather than wet. The stages were flowing and I found a good rhythm and felt relaxed. It was trickier than I thought and because the roads were drier than anticipated, our car set-up was perhaps too soft this morning.
"The afternoon was also not easy. There were no clean tracks because the cars lower down the entry took a different line through the corners during their first pass, and messed up the clean route that had been created. Jari-Matti will sweep the road for us in the morning but we must be careful because there are some tricky places in the long stage. The roads are fast and narrow and I must be brave and put full trust in my pace notes," added Hirvonen.
Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr climbed to fifth in the team's other Fiesta RS WRC, the Abu Dhabi driver chasing a career-best WRC finish. "It's fantastic to be in this position. I felt that I wanted to push harder but I had a couple of near misses so I was nervous to attack harder. The roads were enjoyable and I tried hard to keep my driving neat and tidy," he said.
Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "We felt some pressure this morning but both Jari-Matti and Mikko kept the margin constant to our rivals behind. We were able to take a more cautious approach this afternoon and everything has gone to plan."
News from other Ford teams
M-Sport Stobart Ford crew Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin are fourth in a Fiesta RS WRC, the British pair keeping out of trouble aside from a spin this morning. Team-mates Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor ceded their position to Wilson when they retired from fourth with electrical problems in the afternoon's opening stage. The squad's third car, crewed by Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet climbed from 14th to 10th after yesterday's retirement. Monster World Rally Team's Ken Block / Alex Gelsomino, who also retired yesterday, climbed from 24th to 21st.
The second leg heads north to Clarence Valley shire and is the shortest of the weekend. After a 06.00 start in Coffs Harbour, competitors tackle two identical loops of three stages covering 98.82km. At 30.00km, the middle test of the loop is the longest of the rally. The final 4.58km Power Stage, which will be broadcast live on TV, offers bonus points to the fastest three cars. The finish in Coffs Harbour is at 17.03.