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Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila continue to show phenomenal pace this year as they move up into fourth position after leg 2 of Rally New Zealand. In a fierce battle with Chris Atkinson all day, Latvala had the edge with a perfect tyre choice all the way to the final stage to finish 10.5 seconds ahead of the Australian.
After a convincing start to the morning Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud dropped to tenth overall on stage 8, after a high speed collision with a bank cost them valuable minutes. Despite running high up the order Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr had an enjoyable day setting some quick times to finish the leg, just one place adrift of the points, in ninth position.
Minimal overnight rain meant today’s stages were left loose, handing the disadvantage to front-running competitors who were left with the job of ‘sweeping’ the road. It was another day of close battles throughout the entire 67 strong field that re-started leg 2 this morning.
The route today guided crews through three testing stages north west of Rally HQ before heading back to Mystery Creek for a run of the spectator-friendly super special prior to lunchtime service. After service and a lengthy road section, two more 30 kilometre-plus stages awaited drivers in order to complete the 130 kilometres of day 2 competitive action.
It was again a case of correct weather predictions and precise tyre selection which seemed to be the decisive factor over the day’s extremely close competition. Fortunately for spectators the heavens stayed clear all day offering great viewing points over the six stages run today.
Solberg began far better than Friday morning, coming straight out of the blocks with a seventh fastest stage time. He carried this form into the two afternoon stages also, setting quick times in his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06.
In stage 8, however, the Norwegian became unstuck after a high-speed encounter with a bank. The impact itself only lost Solberg a few seconds but the mud and plastic from a resulting broken bumper, began to overheat the car when it became stuck in and around the radiator. This meant he and Menkerud had to stop twice to clear the impeding debris losing them over four minutes.
Twenty-two-year-old Latvala set some amazing split-times often showing up the likes of BP Ford’s Marcus Gronholm and current WRC champion Sebastien Loeb. Two top-three stage times helped in his battle with Atkinson which he will now look to extend upon heading into tomorrow’s final leg.
British driver Wilson had a much better day moving himself up the leaderboard from his overnight position. Running up the order did the youngster no favours however, as the loose gravel coating was still present for his pass over today’s stages, none of which were repeated. Despite this he drove very consistently only becoming caught out on the 31.58 kilometre Franklin test where he had two minor spins losing half a minute.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“This morning was going well for me except for the spin that we had which dropped us some time but we made some changes to the suspension at service and they helped for the stages in the afternoon. It was still slippery but the feeling with the car was much better. The car has been working well and we haven’t had any problems except for having to stop twice on the stage where I spun. The bumper got pulled off and there was some plastic blocking the radiator. The engine was overheating so I had to stop and remove it. I will push harder tomorrow because I need to move up some places and get more points for the championship.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
“The first two stages this morning were enjoyable but I had a bit of a moment on the third stage. We went a little too wide on one corner and got onto the loose gravel, slid wide, and hit a bank on the outside of the corner. This put the car onto two wheels and I was lucky to get away with it. The afternoon stages have gone really well for me, the feeling with the car and my confidence is much better now. The car and tyres have been perfect on those last two stages and I really enjoyed them. I think this morning I was driving a bit too aggressively and I changed my style to be smoother and cleaner. Obviously this has helped, it felt much better and my times have been improving also.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“It has been difficult today running close to the front of the field, the stages have been really slippery with all the loose gravel. We were hoping for some rain today which would have bound the gravel together and given us more grip but unfortunately this didn’t happen. But we have got faster and the split times today were really good, there were some sections on the last two stages that I remembered from last year and it felt fantastic through those. The experience from today has been invaluable, I need to be able to drive the car in these conditions and its something that we didn’t have the opportunity to do last year.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It has been another great day for the Stobart team and especially for Jari-Matti. His performance today has been nothing short of outstanding and he has put in some quickest split times even though the top guys have been battling for the overall lead. He has really impressed me today and is driving with his head. Again its fantastic to see all three cars finish the day inside the top ten and in prime positions to score manufacturer and driver points. Matthew has also gone well today and has picked up the pace from yesterday. This is quite a specialised event and it’s good to see him gaining lots more invaluable experience.”
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