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Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila claimed a podium finish for Ford World Rally Team on their home round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Finland today.  They crewed a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car to third in Rally Finland, while team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson finished fourth in a similar car.
Fiesta RS WRCs packed the leaderboard with seven finishing this eighth and fastest round of the season inside the top 10 as a fleet of privately-entered cars followed the official Ford entries.
Rally Finland is one of the jewels in the WRC crown.  Based in picturesque forests near Jyväskylä, 270km north of Helsinki, the three-day rally was the equivalent of athletics’ 100 metres sprint, with just 303.52km of competition over 18 speed tests.  It was one of the shortest rounds in the WRC’s history and was fought at a furious pace, with average speeds nearing 130kph.
Huge crowds packed the forests, especially at the classic Ouninpohja special stage which closed the event tonight.  Blisteringly fast roads and stomach-churning jumps over blind crests make this the toughest challenge in the sport and two passes over the 33.01km test provided a fitting finale.
Latvala ended Thursday’s short opening leg tied in second, but the 27-year-old was unable to match the pace of the leaders yesterday.  He was initially frustrated at being unable to perfect the set-up on his Fiesta RS WRC.  However, once he achieved that, he grew in confidence and pulled away from his team-mate during the final leg to secure third.
“As a Finn competing in Finland, a win is always the target, but I said before the rally that if I finished on the podium I would be happy,” said Latvala.  “I enjoyed a clean weekend with no mistakes and no mechanical issues and I can’t say that about many other rallies this year, so that’s a good feeling.
“I wasn’t at my best in the early part of the event, but I battled hard to get the set-up right and that paid off as I found a feeling with which I was happy.  Our pace was strong, but not quite strong enough, so we must all go away and work hard to put that right.  We’re not far away,” he added.
Solberg set a fastest time during each of the opening two legs and started the final day just 1.1sec behind his team-mate.  A set-up change to his Fiesta RS WRC to try to further improve performance failed to pay off and he reverted to his original settings as he settled for fourth, finishing 21.1sec behind Latvala.
“I pushed very hard for the first two days,” said Solberg.  “This morning we agreed that I would try some different settings to see if it would allow us to close on the guys ahead.  I was looking for the ‘magic’ set-up, but it didn’t work.  The car was too low and the sump guard was hitting the road so I reverted back to my original settings.
“Jari-Matti and I had exactly the same speed for the first two days but unfortunately it wasn’t fast enough to win.  I tried really hard on the final Power Stage to try to take maximum bonus points, but I missed out by half a second.  That seems to be the story of the weekend!” he added. 
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson was pleased with a podium, but admitted he had hoped for more.  “We lost ground during Thursday’s short leg and given the pace of Rally Finland we knew it would be difficult to pull time back.  That proved to be the case and we weren’t able to claw back the seconds we lost.  However, we had no problems with either car and it was also encouraging to have seven Fiesta RS WRCs in the top 10,” he said.
Ford Racing’s European motorsport manager Gerard Quinn said: “I have huge respect for Jari-Matti and Petter for the tremendous effort they put in this weekend.  It’s not the result we wanted but they faced a difficult challenge to regain time, and did a great job over the fastest roads in the WRC.  We now look forward to Germany, where I hope we can claim a good result on asphalt.”
News from other Ford teams
Adapta World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson finished fifth in a Fiesta RS WRC, regaining the place in the penultimate test after losing time with a broken propshaft in the previous stage.  They edged out M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk, who enjoyed a troublefree rally en route to sixth.  Matti Rantanen / Mikko Lukka claimed seventh, moving ahead of fellow Finns Jari Ketomaa / Mika Stenberg when they lost time with a puncture.  Czech Ford National Team drivers Martin Prokop / Zdenĕk Hrůza were ninth and Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet recovered to 36th after rolling yesterday.  Ken Block / Alex Gelsomino went off the road in the opening stage today and retired on the following test when broken suspension pitched them off the road after a heavy landing over a jump.  The rally was also the third round of the Ford Racing-supported FIA WRC Academy and Britons Elfyn Evans / Phil Pugh claimed their second straight win in a Fiesta RS to move to the head of the championship.
Next round
The series heads to Germany later this month for the first traditional asphalt encounter of the season.  Rallye Deutschland is based in Trier on 23 - 26 August.
Final positions
1.  S Loeb/D Elena                      FRA             Citroen DS3             2hr 28min 11.4sec
2.  M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen               FIN             Citroen DS3             2hr 28min 17.5sec
3.  J-M Latvala/M Anttila               FIN             Ford Fiesta RS  2hr 28min 46.4sec
4.  P Solberg/C Patterson               NOR             Ford Fiesta RS  2hr 29min 07.5sec
5.  M Østberg/J Andersson               NOR             Ford Fiesta RS  2hr 30min 43.5sec
6.  O Tänak/K Sikk                      EST             Ford Fiesta RS  2hr 30min 59.0sec
7.  M Rantanen/M Lukka          FIN             Ford Fiesta RS  2hr 33min 03.1sec
8.  J Ketomaa/M Stenberg                FIN             Ford Fiesta RS  2hr 34min 13.3sec
9.  M Prokop/Z Hrůza                    CZE             Ford Fiesta RS  2hr 34min 15.7sec
10 S Ogier/J Ingrassia                  FRA             Skoda Fabia S2000       2hr 36min 57.4sec
1.  S Loeb                      171pts                
2.  M Hirvonen                  128pts                
3.  P Solberg                   104pts                
4.  M Østberg                     90pts                
5.  J-M Latvala              69pts                
6.  E Novikov                        55pts                
1.  Citroen Total WRT                     280pts
2.  Ford WRT                    171pts
3.  M-Sport Ford WRT             115pts
4.  Qatar WRT                      49pts
5.  Citroen Junior WRT    48pts
6.  Adapta WRT            37pts

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