Latvala well-positioned in second after New Zealand opener
After an enthralling day’s action in which four different drivers topped the leaderboard, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila ended the opening leg of Rally New
Although the opening leg of this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship is the longest of the three-day event, it was very much the starter ahead of tomorrow’s main course. Drivers jockeyed for position on the fast and flowing gravel roads of
The rally is based in
A remarkably warm summer created dry, dusty conditions, and a thick layer of gravel covered the road surface. It left the early starters at a disadvantage, as they swept the stones clear to leave a cleaner and faster line for those further down the running order. With similar conditions expected tomorrow, the leading drivers focused on ending the day as close as possible to the lead, but in an overall position that will allow them to benefit from a lower start order.
"I couldn’t find a good rhythm in the opening two stages and I wasn’t comfortable with my driving," said the 25-year-old. "The third stage was better and the final one was fantastic to drive. It was just like a stage at home in
Consistent times this afternoon ensured Latvala became the fourth different leader after the seventh of the nine stages, but the Finn was happy to settle for second overnight.
"It gives me a good road position tomorrow. I will have the advantage of seeing the braking points in the gravel from the car ahead and that will make a big difference. I had a good, clear run today. My only moment of concern came when I slid into a ditch on the long afternoon stage. It’s a tight battle on demanding roads and the fight for victory will go all the way to Sunday, so I must push to the maximum with no dramas. Tomorrow’s stages are more technical on narrower roads and the car will feel less stable on the asphalt sections with gravel tyres," he said.
Hirvonen, third in the start order, held third initially but slipped to fifth after the road cleaning process became more pronounced during the final two tests of the opening loop. He remained there during the afternoon stages but admitted that he would have preferred to be closer to the leader. He survived unscathed this morning after a bird flew into the windscreen of his Focus RS WRC, fortunately without shattering the glass.
"I can’t explain just how enjoyable it is to drive on these roads," he said. "It was like dancing with the car. Maybe I’ve enjoyed them a little too much because I need to up the pace a fraction. I can’t afford to let the guys in front of me get away. I was frustrated to lose time on the final two proper stages because I had a great run, but I have a perfect start position tomorrow and I’m still there fighting for the win. My performance was OK, but not as good as it could have been. The car set-up wasn’t quite perfect and with only remote service, we had no opportunity to change it.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on what he labelled ‘a good, solid team performance’. "Today witnessed one of the closest battles we’ve seen so far this season with only 20sec covering the top five paces. Jari-Matti has driven fantastically well while Mikko will start tomorrow in a great road position. Both cars ran faultlessly and we’re well-placed tonight," he said.
News from other Ford teams
Stobart M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin lie sixth in a Focus RS WRC, despite a side window breaking this morning to allow dust into the car and gearbox hitches this afternoon. Team-mates Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor are eighth, the Norwegian driver unhappy with his car’s handling. Munchi’s Ford duo Federico Villagra and Jorge Perez Companc lie 11th. Spaniards Xevi Pons and Alex Haro head a 1-2 in the S-WRC support category for the Ford Fiesta S2000.
The second day is another long and demanding leg with 155.62km of competition, the bulk of it held south-west of
Leaderboard after Day 1
1. P Solberg/P Mills NOR Citroen C4 1hr 35min 51.3sec
2. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 35min 52.7sec
3. S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Citroen C4 1hr 35min 55.2sec
4. D Sordo/M Marti ESP Citroen C4 1hr 36min 00.0sec
5. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 36min 11.5sec
6. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS 1hr 37min 01.0sec
7. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 1hr 37min 11.1sec
8. H Solberg/I Minor NOR Ford Focus RS 1hr 37min 36.6sec
9. J Ketomaa/M Stenberg FIN Ford Fiesta S2000 1hr 40min 09.3sec
10 X Pons/A Haro ESP Ford Fiesta S2000 1hr 40min 31.8sec
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