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Ford World Rally Team won all six speed tests in today’s opening leg of Wales Rally GB to hold first and second places.  Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila won four in a row in a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car to build a 12.1sec lead over team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson, who were quickest in the opening two.
Seven Fiesta RS WRCs packed the top 10 leaderboard after the longest day’s competition in this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The gravel roads in the mid-Wales forests were muddy and slippery after overnight rain.  It was a surprise to drivers, who had expected drier than normal conditions for a rally that is traditionally held in wintry weather in November.  However, Michelin’s soft compound tyres were perfectly matched to the slimy tracks and cool temperatures.
After last night’s start ceremony in the northern coastal resort of Llandudno, the route journeyed the length of Wales to reach Cardiff this evening after almost 14 hours at the wheel.  Drivers tackled two identical loops of three long special stages covering 146.46km, split by just a 15-minute service zone in Newtown, before the opportunity of a well-deserved overnight halt.
Solberg grabbed the early initiative and opened a 2.3sec lead after winning the classic Dyfnant and Hafren Sweet Lamb tests.  Latvala then powered to fastest time through the Myherin stage to climb from fourth to first as the drivers reached Newtown.
The 27-year-old Finn extended his 3.3sec lead by winning all three afternoon tests.  Thirty-seven-year-old Solberg climbed to second in the penultimate stage, eventually ending the leg with a 9.2sec advantage over his closest rival.
“It was a tough day but I couldn’t be happier than I am tonight,” said Latvala.  “The roads were wet and muddy but slippery roads suit me.  The team has worked hard since the last gravel rally to improve the balance of the suspension at the rear of the car and our efforts paid off today.
“We can’t relax yet because our rivals will attack.  Tomorrow’s stages were drier on the recce so unless it rains tonight, conditions should be better, and with a lower start order that will help,” he said.
Latvala had a lucky escape in the second stage when he ran wide and clipped a tree stump.  Some wood became lodged between the front left wheel and the tyre, forcing the rubber partly off the rim.  However, the tyre’s strength kept it inflated and he lost just a couple of seconds. 
“It happened 4km after the start at a medium speed right corner.  The air stayed inside the tyre but there was a big, big vibration which caused me to lose concentration for a few kilometres.  I’m happy the tyre was so strong otherwise I would have had to stop and change it,” he added.
Solberg, too, highlighted the tricky driving conditions.  “It wasn’t that much different from when the rally was in November,” he said.  “It was wet and muddy in the morning and in the afternoon the surface was more polished, which made it even more slippery.  It wasn’t easy.
“After winning the first two stages I decided to ease the pace a little for the third test, which I didn’t drive last year.  I measured my speed on the split times of Sébastien Loeb ahead, but what I didn’t realise was that Jari-Matti was driving much faster behind!  It’s a great start but if we want to keep first and second places then we have to keep pushing because we won’t get it for free,” he added.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the results tonight.  “To win all six stages, with both drivers claiming stage wins, represents a fantastic day.  We’ve done some work since the last gravel rally, after which we realised we had lost some speed compared to our rivals.
“We knew conditions would be different this afternoon compared to the morning, so we made some small but important set-up changes to the cars after the first pass through the stages.  That raised our pace further, and first and second fastest in the last two stages was our reward,” he added.  
News from other Ford teams
Adapta World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson enjoyed a clean run to hold fourth in a Fiesta RS WRC.  M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk are sixth, despite power steering issues throughout the day, ahead of team-mates Evgeny Novikov / Ilka Minor in seventh and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin in ninth.  Martin Prokop / Zdenĕk Hrůza are 10th in the Czech Ford National Team car despite lacking sixth gear for all six stages.
Tomorrow’s Route
The second leg returns to familiar territory in the forests and on military land near Llandovery.  After restarting at 06.30, competitors face two identical loops of three stages which are divided by a return to Cardiff for service.  The day ends with a short test at Celtic Manor, which hosted golf’s Ryder Cup in 2010.  Drivers return to Cardiff for the final overnight halt at 19.58 after seven stages and 95.36km of competition.
Leaderboard after Day 1
1.  J-M Latvala/M Anttila               FIN             Ford Fiesta RS  1hr 25min 05.7sec
2.  P Solberg/C Patterson               NOR             Ford Fiesta RS  1hr 25min 17.8sec
3.  S Loeb/D Elena                      FRA             Citroen DS3             1hr 25min 27.0sec
4.  M Østberg/J Andersson               NOR             Ford Fiesta RS  1hr 25min 38.3sec
5.  M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen               FIN             Citroen DS3             1hr 25min 59.5sec
6.  O Tänak/K Sikk                      EST             Ford Fiesta RS  1hr 26min 24.9sec
7.  E Novikov/I Minor                   RUS             Ford Fiesta RS  1hr 26min 38.5sec
8.  T Neuville/N Gilsoul                BEL             Citroen DS3             1hr 27min 33.6sec
9.  M Wilson/S Martin           GBR             Ford Fiesta RS  1hr 28min 22.7sec
10 M Prokop/Z Hrůza                     CZE             Ford Fiesta RS  1hr 28min 42.5sec

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