BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished today's second leg of Rally Bulgaria in fifth and sixth respectively after a tough day in the mountains south of Sofia.  Inconsistent weather made tyre selection tricky for the asphalt roads as drivers and teams juggled their options for speed tests held several hours after making their selections.

Today was the longest of this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Bulgaria's maiden appearance in the series.  The route offered two identical loops of three special stages covering 140.90km east of the rally base in Borovets, the country's oldest ski resort.  However, the final stage of the morning loop was cancelled for safety reasons due to the number of fans clustered at the finish and the day's competition was reduced to 116.04km.

Both Hirvonen, lying fourth in a Ford Focus RS World Rally car after yesterday's opening leg, and Latvala, one place behind, opted for Pirelli's hard compound PZero tyres for the first loop in the expectation of dry weather.  However, the opening 27.46km Sestrimo test in the mountains was cool, foggy and damp after localised showers fell before the test started – conditions unsuited to hard rubber – and the Finns lost more than a minute each to the fastest drivers.

As the route crossed the valley the weather improved and warm sunshine and predominantly dry roads greeted competitors.  The hard compound was more suited to the better conditions and the performance from the Focus RS WRC duo improved.  Ironically, the last stage of the loop was the hottest and driest of all but neither Hirvonen nor Latvala could take advantage after the cancellation.  The time loss dropped Hirvonen and Latvala to fifth and sixth respectively after the morning's action.  

"With the information we had from our weather service and our safety crew, hard tyres were the only option," explained 25-year-old Latvala.  "Until I reached the start of the first test the roads were dry, then conditions became damp and I knew it would be difficult in the stage.  I made the damper settings softer before the next stage and the driving was easier as a result.  It's a pity the last test was cancelled because it was dry and hot and the roads would have been perfectly suited to our tyres."

With more uncertainty over the afternoon weather, the Ford pair again opted for the dry, hard compound option.  It was the perfect choice and Hirvonen extended his advantage over his fellow countryman from 8.1sec at lunchtime to 42.7sec at the end of the day.  The unfortunate Latvala had to wrestle his car through the final two tests with a damaged pipe in the power steering system.

"In the long corners I had no power in my arms to hold onto the steering wheel.  It was better in the less twisty, faster sections.  In the final stage I had nothing left in my arms, and I needed more than in the previous stage because the road was so bumpy.  My priority now is to visit our physiotherapist!  I'm frustrated because I felt I drove well.  Before the power steering problem my times were closer to Mikko than on previous asphalt rallies, so I think I have improved on this surface," added Latvala.

Hirvonen echoed his colleague's thoughts.  "I was unlucky on the opening stage.  I made the tyre selection according to the information I had.  This afternoon was much better with the correct tyres on dry roads.  If you take away the tyre trouble, I had a stable day.  It's a difficult rally.  The roads here are a mix of the type we encounter on other rounds but I enjoyed the challenge and they're fun to drive.  Tomorrow I hope we can find a good rhythm and have a clean run to a solid points finish," he said.  

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson explained that the morning's tyre choice was based on information provided by an expert weather service in Britain, which provides highly detailed forecasts to the team specific to the rally area.  "The service has always been very good and this morning we received confident advice that there would be no rain.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case and our tyres were totally wrong for the cold, damp conditions," he said.

"Jari-Matti did a great job this afternoon with no power steering.  Our performance this afternoon was better, but it's still not where we want to be," added Wilson.

News from other Ford teams

Stobart M-Sport Ford debutants P-G Andersson and Jonas Andersson retained seventh in a Focus RS WRC, despite opting for the wrong tyres this morning.  He also hit a rock on the penultimate test but no damage was caused.  Team-mates Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin remain ninth, their only major problem coming on the second stage this morning when they incurred a 10 second penalty for a jump start after their car's launch control system malfunctioned.

Tomorrow’s Route

The final leg is the shortest of the rally, covering just 94.52km.  Drivers restart from Dolna Banya at 08.00 and tackle two identical loops of two tests north-east of the town, split by a return to the service park.  The finish is in Borovets at 14.00.

Leaderboard after Day 2
1.  S Loeb/D Elena                      FRA             Citroen C4              2hr 12min 49.3sec
2.  D Sordo/M Marti                     ESP             Citroen C4              2hr 13min 29.8sec
3.  P Solberg/C Patterson               NOR             Citroen C4              2hr 13min 34.5sec
4.  S Ogier/J Ingrassia                 FRA             Citroen C4              2hr 14min 55.0sec
5.  M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen               FIN             Ford Focus RS   2hr 15min 39.7sec
6.  J-M Latvala/M Anttila               FIN             Ford Focus RS   2hr 16min 22.4sec
7.  P-G Andersson/J Andersson   SWE             Ford Focus RS   2hr 17min 25.1sec
8.  F Turan/G Lsiros                    HUN             Peugeot 307             2hr 18min 28.5sec
9.  M Wilson/S Martin           GBR      & nbsp;      Ford Focus RS   2hr 20min 34.0sec
10 H Solberg/I Minor                    NOR             Ford Fiesta S2000       2hr 22min 53.9sec
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