Latvala enters record books
With Rally Finland victory for Ford
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila won a thrilling Rally Finland today to earn a place in the history books.
The Finns won this eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time by 10.1sec in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, joining a long list of Finnish greats who have triumphed in their home event.
Latvala and Anttila were mobbed by their fellow countrymen as they took to the podium in Jyväskylä this evening. Twenty-five-year-old Latvala, already the youngest driver to win a world rally, became the youngest winner of Rally Finland since the WRC started in 1973. It was Ford’s second consecutive victory in the legendary event following the success of Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in 2009, and the manufacturer’s fourth win in five years.
After a short opening speed test on Thursday evening, organisers packed 18 more stages and 310.05km of action into just two long and demanding days instead of the usual three, providing a blend of sprint and endurance. The rally was fought out over dauntingly fast roller-coaster forest roads in central Finland, and it lived up to its reputation as the fastest in the championship with average speeds reaching 133.09kph.
The weather was as hot as the action on the stages. The rally began on a day when the thermometers recorded Finland’s highest-ever temperature of 37.2ºC. The heatwave gave way to thunderstorms which left much of central Finland without electricity yesterday while many roads were blocked by fallen trees, but the rally ran without interruption.
Latvala moved into the lead yesterday afternoon, building a 9.1sec overnight advantage. He extended that to 22.5sec this morning before road conditions turned against him. Overnight rain, which bound together slippery surface gravel and provided more grip, died out and a stiff breeze quickly dried the roads. Latvala was first in the start order and faced the unwanted task of sweeping loose stones from the surface to leave cleaner and faster conditions for those behind.
His lead dropped to 10.6sec with two tests remaining, but Latvala remained unflustered in the face of huge pressure to record his fourth WRC victory and second win of the 2010 season.
"It’s amazing to win my home rally and it’s something I have dreamed of since I was a small boy," he said. "The first time I watched this rally was in 1992 when I was seven and the only thing I could think about then was that I would never be able to drive as fast as the stars I was watching. In 2003 I drove this rally for the first time and still I never thought I would win. To win in front of my home fans, in a country where rallying means so much to everyone, is a dream.”
"The team had some difficult times in the summer but both drivers led this rally and I won. It’s a hugely important victory for the team and Ford. It was only during the final two stages that I really thought I could do it. I’ve learned that if you relax and make no mistakes then you can have a good rally. There have been so many people watching and it was a fantastic atmosphere – this is the best rally in the world," he added.
Team-mates Hirvonen and Lehtinen retired from the lead yesterday morning after crashing heavily following a jump, while the third car of Abu Dhabi’s Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr also rolled into retirement yesterday afternoon. Neither crew was injured.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted to oversee victory in his favourite rally.
"After a difficult few months, the team has dug deep and bounced back to win the most celebrated rally in the calendar. There has been so much effort and commitment from the entire team in recent weeks and this is our reward. It was a stunning drive from Jari-Matti. There was a lot of pressure on his young shoulders when Mikko Hirvonen crashed out yesterday but he handled it superbly and displayed great maturity in a difficult situation," he said.
Ford of Europe motorsport chief Gerard Quinn said: "There is no better place for Ford to win a rally than Finland. It is one of motorsport’s classic events and to triumph here, after leading for virtually the entire event, is a dream come true. Jari-Matti joins some of Ford’s great Finnish drivers who have won their home event, world champions like Marcus Grönholm, Ari Vatanen and Hannu Mikkola. He faced intense pressure here for two days but the mature way in which he handled it shows how well he is progressing as one of the sport’s rising stars."
Ford’s Flying Finns scoop top honours in Rally Finland
— Ford today won Rally Finland, one of motorsport’s classic events, for the fourth time in five years.
— Following victories for Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen in 2006 and 2007 and Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in 2009, Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila added their names to the roll of honour in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.
— The Finns won their home rally, round eight of the FIA World Rally Championship, by 10.1sec after two days of flat out competition on gravel roads in central Finland.
— Latvala, 25, already the youngest winner of a world rally, became the youngest driver to win Rally Finland since the WRC started in 1973.
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