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Jari Ketomaa has reversed an overnight deficit of 6.4 seconds to lead Rally Liepāja-Ventspils by 12.1s following a day of high-speed FIA European Rally Championship action in the ice and snow of Latvia.
Craig Breen, who led after winning Friday’s trio of stages, celebrated his 23rd birthday in style by topping Saturday’s opening two runs. But on the super-fast Neste Oil stage the Irishman’s normally aspirated Peugeot 207 Super 2000 lacked the outright speed needed to fend off Ketomaa’s turbocharged Ford Fiesta RRC. As a result, the Finn took a one-second advantage to the midday service halt in Ventspils.
With another flat-out test, Ventbunkers, plus the repeat of Neste Oil, making up the bulk of the afternoon’s competitive action, Breen was powerless to prevent Ketomaa from edging into a seven-second advantage starting the Ventspils spectator stage located in the grounds of the city’s artificial ski slope. Despite his best efforts, Breen lost more ground there when patches of fog meant he couldn’t fully commit in several corners.
“It’s a very good day and I’m very satisfied,” said Ketomaa, who is being navigated in his Autotek Motorsport entry by Kimi Räikkönen’s former co-driver Kaj Lindström. “I really enjoyed the stages when they were completely full of ice. I hadn’t driven a car since last summer before yesterday so I wasn’t trying too hard because I knew the pace would come when I got into a rhythm.”
Despite losing top spot and the seven bonus points on offer for winning leg two, Breen was pleased with his performance for the Peugeot Rally Academy-Saintéloc operation. “I never expected to be leading this rally at any stage so I’m chuffed to be in a position where I can still fight for the win tomorrow. The Regional Rally Car can do up to 200kph and this car is only designed to do 170kph or thereabouts. But I’m not going to throw in the towel. I’m going to go for it.”
Alexey Lukyanuk made the most of his turbocharged Mitsubishi Lancer’s top speed of 210kph – not to mention some impressive driving – to catch and pass François Delecour’s 207 Super 2000 for third place. Delecour bemoaned his decision to bring two short-ratio gearboxes to Latvia, which compromised his car’s top-end power. “I was on the rev limiter so often it was crazy,” said Delecour, who trails his Russian rival and the ERC Production Car Cup pacesetter by 14.0s starting the longest leg of the rally on Sunday.
Lithuania’s Vytautas Švedas is fifth despite a sleepless night caused by partying guests at the hotel where he was staying. The Mitsubishi driver is 9.8s clear of Jan Černý, who has grown his pace and confidence in his family-run ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000, going second fastest on two stages. Behind seventh-placed Siim Plangi, Raimonds Kisiels remains the top Latvian competitor in the MINI John Cooper Works RRC he is driving in competition for the first time on the back of a 40-kilometre test. Vitaliy Pushkar, from Ukraine, is ninth with Latvian Aivis Egle 10th.
Stéphane Lefebvre, who is giving Peugeot’s 208 R2 its ERC debut, holds a 10.4s-advantage over Risto Immonen (Citroën C2 R2) in the chase for ERC 2WD Championship honours. Lefebvre had never competed on snow and ice before arriving in Latvia but continues to sparkle. Title leader Hannes Danzinger is third in his Renault Clio R3.
Frigyes Turán is the leading Subaru Impreza driver in 12th overall with Zbyněk Baller still on course to finish in his Honda Civic. Jarosláv Orsak is the GPD Mit Metal Racing Team’s leading representative in 13th with Romanian Marco Tempestini the top Napoca Rally Team runner in 26th.
Sunday’s route starts and finishes in Ventspils with all but one stage based around the town of Kuldīga to the south where a remote service will also be held. In total there are six stages over a competitive distance of 109.18 kilometres. Following the second Ventspils kalns spectator stage at 15:00hrs local time, the first car is due to reach the finish podium in Ventspils at 15:35hrs.
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