Latvala delights home fans by leading Rally Finland for Ford
Rally Finland - Day one
Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila lead Rally Finland for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team after today’s dramatic opening leg. The Finnish duo delighted their home fans by winning three speed tests to build a 9.1sec advantage in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen led the rally initially, but the 2009 winners crashed heavily and although both escaped injury, their car was severely damaged and will not restart tomorrow.
This eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship is based in its traditional home of Jyväskylä, in central Finland. Organisers have taken advantage of new-for-2010 rules to pack all the action into just two long and demanding legs, instead of the usual three. The opening leg, which began with a short speed test last night, comprised 147.27km of competition on dauntingly fast, roller-coaster gravel roads to the west and north-east of the host city.
The action was as hot as the temperatures, which reached an all-time high in Finland of 37.2ºC yesterday. Although overnight thunderstorms left a trail of devastation across the centre of the country, the rally ran without interruption and the pace was blistering. Average speeds on one afternoon special stage reached 133.09kph.
Latvala was third after last night’s opening stage and quickly established himself in second this morning following Hirvonen’s crash. His first stage win this afternoon promoted him to the top and he gradually extended his advantage through the rest of the leg.
"It’s a dream to be in this position," said Latvala. "When I arrived in the service park tonight the grandstands were full and all the fans cheered and applauded me. That gave me a real boost. It’s too early to think about winning though, I’m just concentrating on one stage at a time. Mikko’s retirement put more pressure on me, but it didn’t change my way of thinking. I saw his car and had to drive around it a little because it was partly in the road.
"I hurt my back after a jump in Urria this morning but I had some treatment from our physio before the second loop and it feels fine now. I need a perfect day tomorrow. I want to find a good balance with my driving and keep a cool head. The first two stages are the most difficult of the rally but because they are so challenging, I enjoy them." he said.
Hirvonen, lying second after last night’s short opening speed test, was fastest through both the 12.75km Urria and the 22.29km Jukojärvi special stages this morning to build a 4.9sec lead in his Focus RS WRC. However, the 29-year-old Finn crashed shortly after the midpoint during the second pass through Urria.
"The section at which I crashed is my favourite corner on any stage, anywhere in the world," said Hirvonen, whose accident spoiled his 30th birthday celebrations tomorrow. "It happened at a fast right corner which led into a jump. I landed after the jump in the perfect place on the road but the car pulled left and started rolling. I was surprised the landing pulled the car across the road so violently. It happened so fast that I had no time to react."
The car rolled up the road five times and Hirvonen estimated his landing speed was 140kph. He and Lehtinen went to hospital for precautionary checks but were uninjured. "It was my biggest accident ever. I’m so disappointed because this is my home town rally and I had the speed to win. The car is too badly damaged to continue, but my young sons are here and want to watch the rally cars, so I will spend the day spectating with them," added Hirvonen.
Abu Dhabi’s Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr were ninth in the team’s other Focus RS WRC, before they rolled into retirement on the sixth stage. "Finland is a tough rally. The terrain is rocky, there are frequent crests, and the stages are some of the fastest in the WRC. It was an exciting day up until this point and the roll was really unfortunate. This is my fourth time competing in Finland, but the conditions can catch out even the most experienced driver," said Al Qassimi. The car was too badly damaged for the duo to restart tomorrow.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on a day of mixed fortunes. "Jari-Matti had a brilliant day but it was a disappointing end for Mikko. We made some small improvements to our car during testing last week and it feels good to be back at front-running pace again. The stages here are so fast that it’s easy to make a mistake so Jari-Matti must not relax for a single second tomorrow," he said.
News from other Ford teams
Stobart M-Sport Ford’s Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin are sixth in a Focus RS WRC, the Britons enjoying a troublefree day apart from handling difficulties this afternoon. Team-mates Juha Kankkunen and Juha Repo are just one place behind, the four-time world champion driver competing on his first WRC event for eight years. Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor enjoyed a good run to fifth before they rolled into retirement on the seventh stage. They, too, will be unable to restart tomorrow.
The second and final leg is even longer than today’s marathon. After leaving Jyväskylä at 05.50, drivers journey south-west for three loops of stages covering 162.78km. They return to the city for the finish ceremony at 19.45.
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