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Thursday wrap: Latvala leads after dramatic start

Ford ace in front but world champion Loeb is out after crashing Citroen


By www.wrc.com

30 March 2012 - 00:51
Thursday wrap: Latvala leads after (...)

Round four of the FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia has got off to a dramatic start with eight-time world champion Sebastien Loeb crashing out and five seconds covering the top three after four stages of Vodafone Rally de Portugal.

Loeb, who opted to start second on the road for the three night stages in his Citroen DS3 WRC in an effort to avoid being caught out by hanging dust clouds, had set the third fastest time on stage two but failed to make it though the halfway point of the 14.29-kilometre Santa Clara run when he went off the road.

Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena were uninjured in the crash but their car is too badly damaged for them to continue under Rally 2 regulations on Friday.

“They went off on a situation when the road turned on the top [on a crest], the road turned to the right and Sebastien turned to the left,” said Citroen Racing team principal Yves Matton. “The pace note was good, but he didn’t follow the indication, just before the top the road was going a little bit to the left and we think he was looking more to the road and he didn’t follow the note. Sebastien said the impact was not heavy. We don’t know how many times the car rolled, but enough to make sure it won’t start tomorrow.”

Jari-Matti Latvala leads overnight for Ford, his gamble to select a lowly starting position to benefit from a ‘cleaner’ road surface paying off when he went second fastest on stage two and quickest of all on the third stage to snatch the lead of the rally from team-mate Petter Solberg. But his progress was thwarted slightly when it rained heavily while he was tackling Thursday’s closing stage.

“It has not been an easy evening but our [road] position has paid off,” said Latvala, whose overall lead ahead of Solberg is 2.6s. “If it rains tomorrow then starting lower down is not the best for sure but luckily we will have the soft tyre [option] if we have bad conditions and Mikko [Hirvonen] will be closer to us in the starting positions.”

Petter Solberg was fastest through the all-asphalt street stage in Lisbon and quickest again on the first gravel test, Gomes Aires. The rain also caught him out on stage four with the Norwegian reporting a half spin in his Fiesta.

Hirvonen opted to run first on the road through the three gravel tests, which he completed trailing Latvala by 5.0s as the only surviving factory Citroen runner following Loeb’s exit.

Ott Tanak is fourth overnight and 15.7s shy of the lead following an impressive showing in his M-Sport Fiesta, which included his first WRC gravel stage victory. The Estonian struggled for confidence initially and admitted to not switching on all his car’s lights for stage three. Otherwise it was an impressive performance by the young Estonian.

Thierry Neuville is a strong fifth with Mads Ostberg sixth following a puncture. Evgeny Novikov is seventh with Jari Ketomaa eighth and Super 2000 World Rally Championship category leader Hayden Paddon in ninth. Dennis Kuipers, making his first start in the WRC in 2012, completes the top 10 in his Fiesta with Patrik Sandell just behind in his Sweden World Rally Team-backed MINI John Cooper Works WRC.

Dani Sordo failed to start stage three due to a lighting issue. Armindo Araujo lost time going off into a ditch on stage two in his MINI. A suspected electrical fault has slowed Martin Prokop’s Fiesta. Nasser Al-Attiyah is 12th overall for the Qatar World Rally Team with Peter van Merksteijn Jr 15th and Brazil World Rally Team’s Daniel Oliviera 16th.

1. J. LATVALA 25m04.6s
2. P. SOLBERG +2.6
3. M. HIRVONEN +5.0
4. O. TÄNAK +15.7
5. T. NEUVILLE +34.0
6. M. ØSTBERG +53.3
7. E. NOVIKOV +1:02.9
8. J. KETOMAA +1:15.0
9. H. PADDON +1:39.6
10. D. KUIPERS +1:47.1
11. P. SANDELL +1:54.2
12. N. AL ATTIYAH +1:57.0
13. C. BREEN +2:04.2
14. S. OGIER +2:09.7
15. P. VAN MERKSTEIJN (JR) +2:31.6
16. D. OLIVEIRA +2:46.2
17. Y. AL RAJHI +2:57.7
18. M. PROKOP +4:23.0
19. F. AHLIN +4:24.0
20. B. REEVES +4:24.5


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