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Latvala and Solberg suffer as storms hit Rally de Portugal

"It was muddy, foggy and wet and incredibly slippery"


By Olivier Ferret

30 March 2012 - 21:49
Latvala and Solberg suffer as (...)

Ford World Rally Team suffered a double disappointment today as both Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila and team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson retired from the second leg of Rally de Portugal. Both crews were caught out in treacherous weather and went off the road on a day when the legacy of overnight storms forced organisers to cancel three of the six speed tests.

Neither Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car was badly damaged and both will restart tomorrow under Rally 2 regulations, with a time penalty imposed for the special stages missed. Latvala will incur a 15 minute penalty after crashing out on the opening test, while Solberg will inherit a 10 minute penalty after retiring a stage later.

The one lucky break for the team came with the cancellation of this afternoon’s three stages for safety reasons. It meant an additional 15 minute penalty for each driver for missing the three tests was scrapped.

Today’s second leg was held near the Algarve coastal town of Tavira, using a mix of roads not used for several years and some that were new to this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Torrential overnight rain turned the dry gravel roads in the hills above the town into a muddy mess, with thick fog adding to the challenge.

Drivers were due to tackle two identical loops of three stages covering 132.68km. The first two stages ran as scheduled, but only 12 cars completed the final stage of the morning before a flooded road on a liaision section brought the event to a halt. Desperate efforts were made to clear the blockage but they were in vain and organisers cancelled the afternoon pass.

Latvala led Solberg by 2.6sec overnight but the 26-year-old Finn’s victory hopes ended in poor visibility 1.4km from the finish of the opening 25.01km Tavira stage.

“I turned into a left corner and saw a rock on the driving line,” explained Latvala. “I didn’t have it marked in my pace notes and I tried to avoid it, but couldn’t. The car touched the rock with the front left and the impact damaged the suspension. The front wheel bent into the wheel arch and the car spun backwards off the road and down a small bank on the right.

“It was muddy, foggy and wet and incredibly slippery – some of the most difficult conditions in which I’ve driven. We had big hopes this morning. We were first and second and had a good opportunity to close the gap on our rivals in the championship. Now that has gone,” he added.

Solberg dropped 10sec in Tavira after briefly sliding off, but was unwilling to take risks in the treacherous conditions and eased his pace. However, the 37-year-old Norwegian was caught out near the end of the following test.

“Thick fog made visibility virtually zero,” he said. “I approached a slow right hand corner and braked as normal, but the car slid wide and dropped into a small ditch. I tried to get back on the road but the clutch burned out in trying to do so. It’s so frustrating because I wasn’t pushing hard. Survival was my only aim and I felt under control, but sometimes even when you ease off these things can happen.

“Conditions were unbelievably bad, and I’ve never driven this car in mud, rain and fog. I felt comfortable at the speed at which I was driving. Now I need to reach the end of the rally, see if I can get back into the points and try to take some bonus points in Sunday’s Power Stage,” said Solberg.

Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson said the disappointment of the double retirement was felt throughout the team. “After Sébastien Loeb’s retirement, we had an opportunity to close on our championship rivals, but we squandered an incredible lifeline. Conditions were treacherous but both drivers have a lot of experience. We didn’t need the pace, we needed to be smart and clever but we were caught out.

“Jari-Matti is very hurt but we’re 100 per cent supportive of him. We’ll stay behind him and ensure we get back to winning rallies. We know both he and the car have the pace and we need to ensure that all comes together on the next rally in Argentina. Today was a huge disappointment but I’ve been in this sport long enough to know we can fight back. Our real team spirit will kick in,” added Wilson.

News from other Ford teams

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet lie second in a Fiesta RS WRC, 5.5 sec ahead of Adapta World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson. Østberg lost time when he drove the final stage with a rear left puncture. Czech Ford National Team’s Martin Prokop / Zdenĕk Hrůza recovered superbly from last night’s electrical problems to climb from 18th to fifth. The Fiesta RS WRCs of Dennis Kuipers / Robin Buysmans and Jari Ketomaa / Mika Stenberg are also in the top 10, in eighth and 10th respectively. M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk were another crew to fall foul of the conditions, retiring from fourth in the opening stage after sliding into a ditch and hitting rocks.

Tomorrow’s Route

The third leg covers familiar territory north of Faro and is the longest of the rally. After leaving the town at 08.30, drivers tackle two identical loops of three stages, split by a return to the service park at the Algarve Stadium. They return there for the final overnight halt at 18.25 after 148.16km of competition.


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