Nancy Knapp Schilke, WRC Correspondent
The Finn is in the lead by 6.1 seconds over the Frenchman
Jari-Matti Latvala started today’s action in the Wales Rally GB 1.1 seconds behind Sebastien Loeb and by the end of the third leg of what has become a drama-filled event; the Finn had his Ford Fiesta RS on top of the leaderboard. The final World Rally Championship event in Wales has produced a thrilling ending as the season finale in the past and it already has lived up to its demanding reputation.
Today started in Cardiff before the remaining contenders headed to the forests for the main contest of six special stages totaling 128.06km under sunny skies. However, the heavy rains yesterday made the trek very slippery and muddy. Tomorrow, Latvala and Miikka Anttila could end the four consecutive wins by Citroen’s ace Loeb and his navigator Daniel Elena in the Wales rally.
Latvala won four of today’s six stages and he said, “It’s been 18 months since I last won, but there’s a fire inside me and I feel hungry for victory. I must ensure I have the right set-up on the car but I have absolute confidence I will. Tomorrow’s stages are good, but they’re tricky and I need to be prepared for that. The plan is to be fast, flat-out and tidy. The cat needs to stay on top of the mouse now.”
Indeed it was a cat and mouse game between the Finn and the Frenchman. The newly crowned 2011 champions started the day in their Citroen DS3 day holding the overall. They kept the lead over the first three stages (12, 13 and 14) but on the rally’s 15th stage, Loeb lost the lead to Latvala by a 1.3 second gap.
“I think I drove pretty well. Jari-Matti was just that little bit quicker this afternoon. There’s no other explanation as I don’t reckon the starting order had any influence on the performances,” said Loeb. “With a six-second gap everything’s still up for grabs. If I feel confident tomorrow, I’ll keep on pushing to try and win this rally.”
Mads Østberg continues to hold the final podium spot but the pressure that was on the Norwegian yesterday has departed. His M-Sport Stobart Ford has a nice gap to team mate Henning Solberg. To add to the team’s hopes is Matthew Wilson who sits sixth.
The day for Østberg opened with his holding just over seven seconds to Petter Solberg and the two Norwegians were ready to battle for third today but Solberg’s privateer Citroen had a fuel pipe failure before the start of the 12th stage (first special in leg two). The team had to retire from the rally and will not use the SupeRally to continue.
They were on the road section when a fire under the bonnet was noticed as the windshield had flames spreading. “We had no other choice than to jump out of the car and put the fire out. It would have been possible to repair the car and continue tomorrow, but we have decided not to restart,” said a disappointed Solberg.
Østberg had issues later in the day as he explained, “There’s been something wrong with the engine but we weren’t really sure what it was. At first we thought it was a leak in the cooling system and we couldn’t stop the car as we would be down to three cylinders so we kept it running. We had a message from the team to keep the engine at a high a rev as possible so we were probably one gear lower than we needed to be for most of this afternoon. It’s frustrating but we didn’t lose too much time so that is good. We really wanted to hold onto third so we did everything we possibly could to get the car back to service. Our team don’t seem too overly concerned with the problem so we should hopefully get it fixed tonight and we can finish tomorrow on the podium. That is all I care about right now!”
H. Solberg knows Kris Meeke in the MINI can catch him as he said, “We had a very good road position this afternoon and everything has been good. We didn’t push this morning after Petter retired - there’s not been any battle so we didn’t need to. But then this afternoon we’ve had Kris [Meeke] right behind us so tomorrow we really need to push to stay ahead tomorrow.”
Meeke holds fifth and is between the two Ford M-Sport team mates but his eye will be on H. Solberg. “The car is working well on the smooth stuff, but on the ruts we lose a bit of time. We shall see tomorrow what happens, as it will be interesting to see if we can catch Henning. I have done tomorrow’s stages in the other direction, so maybe I should try reversing through them!”