Fourth for Latvala boosts hopes of WRC runners-up place

Rally de Espana - Day 3

By Franck Drui

24 October 2010 - 16:16
Fourth for Latvala boosts hopes of (…)

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team finished fourth and fifth in Rally de España today. Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were fourth in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after three days of gravel and asphalt action in the hills west of Barcelona. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen were fifth in a similar car on this 12th and penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Latvala closed on Sébastien Ogier in the battle for second place in the drivers’ championship. The 25-year-old Finn will start the final round in Great Britain next month 11 points behind the Frenchman.

The Spanish round of the championship was a pure asphalt encounter in recent years. However, to celebrate its 20th season in the WRC, organisers reverted to its original format of mixed surface competition, with gravel roads also included in the format. Friday’s opening leg covered both, with a bias towards dirt. After teams converted their cars from gravel to asphalt specification, the final two days were based entirely on sealed surface roads.

Drivers tackled 16 speed tests covering 344.88km near the rally base of Salou. Early autumn sunshine saw temperatures climb to 21ºC and while Pirelli’s Scorpion gravel tyres were used on the first day, hard compound PZero rubber was the choice of both Latvala and Hirvonen on asphalt.

After initially holding second, Latvala completed the opening leg in third. He was unhappy with the car’s set-up yesterday morning and softened the suspension settings, which improved both the handling and his confidence. However, he could not hold off a charging Dani Sordo and slipped to fourth, a position he maintained through today’s final leg.

"It’s been another good weekend for me on asphalt," said Latvala. "I had a good feeling with the car, I enjoyed it and I felt relaxed in my driving. I had good confidence and my speed on this surface continues to improve, but unfortunately I couldn’t match the guys ahead to reach the podium. Since yesterday I’ve been thinking a little about the championship and the points situation going into the final round in Wales next month. It will be interesting there now, we will be in an exciting fight."

Hirvonen struggled to find a rhythm on the opening leg, which the 30-year-old Finn ended in fifth. He was happier on the asphalt stages, with which he has several years’ experience, and closed the gap on Latvala. However, a broken clip on his car’s turbo pipe yesterday afternoon cost four minutes. He worked furiously to make repairs on the next liaison section and retained fifth. He measured his pace through today’s final leg to claim solid points.

"Friday was a difficult day because I almost went off the road early in the first stage and that mistake upset my rhythm," said Hirvonen. "The roads were technical and I was just too careful. I felt better once we were on the asphalt yesterday morning but I was unlucky with the turbo pipe problem. Luckily I managed to fix it but things just don’t seem to be working at the moment. Today was good and I’m happy that my final rally on asphalt with a Focus RS WRC ended on a high note."

Abu Dhabi’s Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr ended the opening day in 12th in the team’s other car after braking difficulties, but swiftly climbed the leaderboard to take seventh. It was the Emirati driver’s second-best career result. "This rally has gone a long way to building our confidence. After crashes in Finland and Japan, we deserved a good result here. We started off cautiously on the alternating surfaces, but our persistence paid off," said Al Qassimi.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "A solid finish from Jari-Matti means he can go to Rally GB to try to finish runner up in the drivers’ championship. He continues to improve on asphalt, and it was good to see that Mikko is getting back on the pace. He did a great job yesterday in fixing the car after the problem with the turbo pipe, I was very impressed."

Ford of Europe’s motorsport chief Gerard Quinn said: "Attention now turns to Britain, and the final rally for the Focus RS WRC and the World Rally Car era. Our aim is to see the Focus RS WRC go out on a high and during the next couple of weeks our preparations will be geared towards achieving that."

M-Sport, which runs the day-to-day operations of Ford’s world rally programme, won the Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally Award. The award celebrated the company’s 200th world rally since it joined Ford as a WRC partner, during which time the team won manufacturers’ world titles in both 2006 and 2007.

News from other Ford teams

Stobart M-Sport Ford’s Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin finished sixth in a Focus RS WRC. Team-mates Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino were ninth in a Monster World Rally Team car, after losing four minutes off the road yesterday morning, to claim their first WRC points. Munchi’s Ford duo Federico Villagra and José Diaz were 15th, finishing under SupeRally rules after retiring with an overheating engine yesterday. Henning Solberg and Stéphane Prévot won the Super 2000 category in a Ford Fiesta S2000, claiming eighth overall.

Next round

The 2010 season closes with Rally GB which is based in Cardiff on 11 - 14 November.



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