Latvala claims four wins as Ford battles back in Mexican heat
- 11th March 2012, 4:39pm
Latvala, who led yesterday before damaging his car’s suspension after hitting a rock, won four of the seven speed tests. Solberg, leader after Thursday evening’s opening special stage, shared fastest time in the penultimate test.
Soaring temperatures and long gravel stages in the rolling mountains around León, 400km north-west of Mexico City, posed tough challenges for Michelin’s tyres, along with the engine, transmission and brakes on the Fiesta RS WRCs.
After a 06.00 restart, drivers tackled seven stages covering 183.80km, including two passes over the demanding 41.88km Otates test. Rain last night dampened the gravel, but as the thermometer rose to 30ºC, the surface quickly dried.
Latvala, fourth overnight, won the opening stage to climb to third and continued to pressure his rivals ahead. However, the 26-year-old Finn hit a large piece of bedrock on the third stage and broke his front left wheel. He drove 25km with a flat tyre but amazingly lost only 50sec. It dropped him to fourth, but fastest time on the following test promoted him back to third.
“It was in a left corner and maybe I took a different line to the first pass,” said Latvala. “I hit the rock hard and I immediately felt the wheel bend. It started to touch the suspension upright and the tyre delaminated. It proves what a great job Michelin has done with its tyres that I drove 25km with the rubber in that condition and only lost 50sec.”
Latvala immediately refocused his target on maintaining a podium place. He adopted a risk-free strategy but his pace remained strong and he won two more stages this afternoon.
“This morning I tried to put pressure on the guys ahead,” he said. “I was over a minute behind but in a position where they weren’t totally comfortable. After the broken wheel the gap went up to more than two minutes and they could afford to ease off.
“I must finish before I get any points so I have to concentrate fully on the long stage tomorrow. There’s no pressure and I don’t have to push to the maximum, but sometimes that’s not easy because you can lose concentration. I must keep focused because things can change right at the end, as we saw at the last round in Sweden when I nearly lost the rally close to the finish,” he added.
Solberg narrowed the gap to fourth-placed Mads Østberg before leapfrogging both his fellow Norwegian and Latvala. When his team-mate moved back ahead, Solberg settled into fourth. He posted equal fastest time in the head-to-head battle around León’s race circuit and ensured a Ford one-two in the final two mountain tests by finishing second behind Latvala.
“Apart from some brake troubles this morning and a puncture when a nail pierced a tyre, everything was good,” said Solberg, who lies 17.9sec behind his colleague. “I changed the brake pads for a softer set and they were much better. I was happy with my speed, especially in the final set of stages when I had a good battle with Jari-Matti and we twice finished first and second.
“There are a few small things I want to adjust but if you look at the times then the performance of the car was excellent. It would be great to win the long stage tomorrow so I will attack and see what happens. It’s going to be tough and nobody will be able to breathe easily until that is over,” he added.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson said he would encourage his drivers to push hard tomorrow. “In 2004 we were third and fourth going into the final day and finished first and second. It would be a good story if history repeated itself!
“Our pace was strong today and we claimed the most stage wins, but sadly we didn’t reduce the deficit. We asked Jari-Matti to push and keep the pressure on the cars ahead and the gap was falling until he clipped a rock. Petter improved his pace and his speed on his first gravel rally in the car bodes well for the future,” added Wilson.
News from other Ford teams
Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson are fourth in the Adapta Motorsport World Rally Team’s Fiesta RS WRC, more than 90sec clear of M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk. Tänak survived a spin and a stall in stage 14 and a puncture in the following test. Team-mates Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet retired from seventh when they ripped a wheel from their Fiesta RS WRC in the last stage. Novikov’s demise promoted Monster World Rally Team’s Ken Block / Alex Gelsomino into 10th, but team-mates Chris Atkinson / Stephane Prévot retired after losing their brakes at the end of stage 17 and hitting a bank.
The final leg offers a sting in the tail with one of the longest stages of the season. After leaving León at 08.30, drivers return to the city’s race circuit for a final pass before tackling the massive 54.30km all-gravel Guanajuatito test. Two more mountain stages follow before the finish in León at 15.00, including the final Power Stage where bonus points are on offer to the fastest three drivers. The four stages cover 74.76km.
Leaderboard after Day 2
1. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen DS3 3hr 25min 17.5sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Citroen DS3 3hr 25min 53.7sec
3. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Fiesta RS 3hr 27min 10.5sec
4. P Solberg/C Patterson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 3hr 27min 28.4sec
5. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 3hr 28min 01.7sec
6. O Tänak/K Sikk EST Ford Fiesta RS 3hr 29min 39.6sec
7. N Al Attiyah/G Bernacchini QAT Citroen DS3 3hr 31min 18.3sec
8. A Araujo/M Ramalho PRT Mini John Cooper 3hr 35min 5 9.6sec
9. S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Skoda Fabia S2000 3hr 37min 20.2sec
10 K Block/A Gelsomino USA Ford Fiesta RS 3hr 39min 09.3sec
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