Nancy Knapp Schilke, WRC Correspondent
Ford stays 1-2 while Citroen fights back; Solberg retains third
Jari-Matti Latvala closed out the second day of Rally Australia with a lead of nearly 23 seconds over his Ford teammate Mikko Hirvonen. Third place in this weekend’s World Rally Championship belongs to Petter Solberg. The first leg was filled with drama which saw the two Citroen factory drivers have accidents and opened the door for their main rivals from the Ford camp. Today both “Sebs” mounted a charge to make up for lost ground as both took a few stage victories.
However, it was Latvala who came out swinging as he won the first four stages this morning. Unlike yesterday’s wet track, it was a dry dusty route today which gave Latvala an edge since Hirvonen, who had a seven second lead at the end of the first leg, was the “sweeper” today and had to be the first one out on the route to clear off the route, handing his own teammate a cleaner track. The advantage will change tomorrow as Latvala will be the Finn who clears the track.
We just have to make sure Petter is not going to be a threat tomorrow
"Tomorrow will be demanding being first on the road. We don't know how much the rain on Friday's has affected tomorrow's stages but we will find out in the morning. I have a passion to win but I know the situation Mikko is in so I will help him but we have to see what happens first,” said Latvala.
Hirvonen commented, "Hopefully it helps being second on the road tomorrow. The stages are faster tomorrow so I don't know if it will be as much of an advantage as today but we will see. We just have to make sure Petter is not going to be a threat tomorrow."
Solberg in his privateer Citroen is nearly one minute off the pace of Latvala. Both Ford drivers will probably take it easier tomorrow to ensure the 1-2 finish which just might hand an advantage over to the Norwegian who will continue to apply pressure for the victory in Australia, even though he is nearly one minute off the leader’s pace.
The only top driver to fall out of the competition today was Petter’s brother Henning Solberg. His M-Sport Ford has an electric gremlin and dropped him down the leaderboard. He was in fourth earlier today but that spot is now owned by his teammate Matthew Wilson, who is six minutes behind Latvala.
There was a delay in today’s proceedings when the local fans gathered to watch the final two special stages around the Coffs Jetty Precinct tonight. Instead of gravel, the drivers were back on the harder asphalt surface. When the crowds became congested, the organizers delayed the contest after the first special (Stage 19) had taken place which was won by Loeb. This was the Frenchman's second stage win since rolling his Citroen yesterday after winning the final stage on the gravel route earlier. Perhaps that was one reason for the overly-zealous crowd.
Loeb said, "My mechanics have done a very good job to allow me to rally today. It has been hard today with no fight but that’s life and it’s not so often it happens so I have to accept it."
Ogier ended tonight’s final stage with the victory and now sits 11th after taking three earlier stage wins today, the Frenchman feels positive about his goal to take points as he said, “… that’s the goal to try and get some points and into that top-10. Everybody has done mistakes here and for me it was the worst outcome but that rally and anything can happen."