Birthday boy Jari-Matti Latvala celebrated turning 25 today when he and co-driver Miikka Anttila finished second in the Jordan Rally in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. 

The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team pair claimed their best result in the FIA World Rally Championship for almost a year after conquering intense heat and rocky desert tracks in the Arabian kingdom on this third round of the 2010 season.

The runners-up position promoted the Finns into second in the drivers' championship standings ahead of team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in a similar Focus RS WRC.  Hirvonen finished 20th, restarting this morning and completing the event under SupeRally rules after retiring from fifth yesterday morning when he hit a bank and broke his car's front left suspension.

Appearing in the WRC for only the second time, the Jordan Rally was based on the shores of the Dead Sea, south-west of the capital city of Amman, and at 420 metres below sea level, the lowest point on earth.  Appropriately for Easter weekend, the 21 speed tests covering 339.48km ran in areas steeped in history through stories made famous in the Bible, including the Baptism site where Jesus Christ was baptised in the Jordan River, and Mount Nebo where Moses was buried overlooking the Holy Land.

Latvala dominated Friday's opening leg, picking his way skilfully through the rocky desert landscape to build a 30.2sec advantage.  As a result he was first in the start order yesterday, and lost time as he swept slippery loose gravel from the road surface to create a cleaner and faster line for those behind to follow.  He ended the day in third, 27.7sec from the lead but with an ideal start position for today.

A flurry of tactics at this morning's restart shuffled the start order as drivers deliberately incurred time penalties to engineer a more favourable start position for their team-mates.  Latvala was now fourth in the running order but, crucially, main rival Sébastien Loeb was second rather than first and avoided the unwanted role as road opener.

Latvala attacked initially but, after two narrow escapes, soon called off his pursuit of the leader and settled for a worthy second place.  "It's a much better birthday than last year when I thought I might die after crashing and rolling 200 metres down a hillside in Portugal," he said.  "Second is a great result, although I felt a little disappointed this morning when I realised I wouldn't be able to win.  I kept the pressure on in case he made a mistake and I could capitalise, but I also had to stay relaxed.

"This is my third good result in three rallies this season and this run has boosted my confidence.  The tactical decisions this morning changed the course of the day.  It had a huge effect with Loeb second in the start order.  The difference between first and second in the order is huge in terms of road cleaning, while second and third or third and fourth is only marginal," added Latvala, who won three special stages on Thursday and two today.

Hirvonen ended the opening leg in fifth but crashed out less than 3km into yesterday's opening stage, breaking the suspension.  "I made a mistake and took too tight a line over a crest.  The car hit a small gravel bank on the inside of a right bend and the impact threw it into the air and across the road.  I was lucky not to roll, but it landed on the left front wheel and the suspension broke," he said.

Lying 20th and with no chance of regaining lost time, the 29-year-old Finn was happy to deliberately incur a time penalty by restarting early this morning to improve Latvala's road position.  He paced himself through the final eight tests, run in temperatures as high as 33ºC, to finish 20th and score valuable points for the team in the manufacturers' championship.

"It was a disappointing weekend," he admitted.  "I made a silly mistake but that was going to happen at some point.  I just wish it hadn't happened here this weekend.  It's unlike me and I want the old Mikko back.  The team did a good job of repairing my car and today I drove carefully, checking my pace notes and taking no risks.  It's not the same as when you are fighting for victory and attacking because it's hard to keep the rhythm.  The roads were extremely slippery and the most technical of the rally."

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "I'm pleased we set competitive times and won stages again.  Jari-Matti's performance was a big boost because the pressure was on him after Mikko made an uncharacteristic mistake.  His result was a reward for a mature and sensible drive."

Ford of Europe motorsport chief Gerard Quinn said: "After the disappointment on the last round in Mexico, we promised we would bounce back here, and we did.  Jari-Matti was the class act of the first day and remained in the battle for victory until today.  It was a confidence boost for the whole team."    
Next round
Round four of the series takes the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team to a new-look Rally of Turkey.  The base has moved from the south coast holiday resort of Kemer to Istanbul in the north – the gateway between Europe and Asia.  The rally, on 15 - 18 April, remains on gravel and spans both continents.

Final positions
1.  S Loeb/D Elena                      FRA             Citroen C4              3hr 51min 35.9sec
2.  J-M Latvala/M Anttila               FIN             Ford Focus RS   3hr 52min 11.7sec
3.  P Solberg/P Mills                   NOR             Citroen C4              3hr 52min 47.7sec
4   D Sordo/M Marti                     ESP             Citroen C4              3hr 53min 25.2sec
5.  M Wilson/S Martin           GBR             Ford Focus RS   4hr 00min 00.2sec
6.  S Ogier/J Ingrassia                 FRA             Citroen C4              4hr 02min 02.3sec
7.  F Villagra/J Perez Companc  ARG             Ford Focus RS   4hr 03min 03.9sec
8.  K Räikkönen/K Lindström             FIN             Citroen C4              4hr 04min 06.9sec
9.  H Solberg/I Minor                 &nbs p; NOR             Ford Focus RS   4hr 05min 44.5sec
10 X Pons/A Haro                        ESP             Ford Fiesta             4hr 10min 09.8sec

1.  S Loeb                        68pts                
2.  J-M Latvala                   43pts                
3.  M Hirvonen            37pts                
4.  P Solberg                     35pts                
5.  S Ogier                       33pts                
6.  D Sordo                       24pts

1.  Citroen Total               101pts
2.  BP Ford Abu Dhabi             87pts
3.  Citroen Junior                48pts
4.  Stobart M-Sport Ford          44pts
5.  Munchi's Ford                 16pts

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