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Ford World Rally Team duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila are tied for second place after a fast and furious opening to Rally Finland tonight.  Driving a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, the Finns are 7.3sec from the lead, with team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson less than two seconds behind in sixth.
 
This eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship headed south towards Helsinki from its traditional Jyväskylä base this afternoon.  After a regroup alongside the picturesque harbour in Lahti, competitors tackled just three gravel speed tests before returning to Jyväskylä late tonight for what will be a short night’s rest.
 
Two traditional forest special stages sandwiched a short test at Lahti’s trotting track, offering just 29.90km of competition ahead of two longer days on more familiar Rally Finland territory.  After yesterday’s thunderstorms, today remained dry and the Ford drivers’ decision to start down the running order to avoid the worst of the slippery loose gravel proved correct. 
 
It took 27-year-old Latvala a while to find his rhythm in the opening speed test.  Third place around the trotting track calmed his nerves, but Latvala admitted he was surprised to drop five seconds in the final stage.
 
“I was a little too careful in the opening stage, but the second test was fine,” said Latvala.  “I thought I drove well in the last stage, but the clock showed that I dropped five seconds.  That was frustrating because I don’t understand where the time went.
 
“I tried a new suspension set-up so perhaps I need to think if that was the reason.  I pushed hard, so I also need to consider whether I drove too sideways as a result and lost time.  The gap is small but tomorrow is much longer and more demanding and I don’t want to concede more seconds in the morning,” he added.
 
Solberg was quickly into his stride, setting second fastest time in the opening stage before winning the trotting track test.  The 37-year-old Norwegian also dropped some seconds in the final test, but such was the pace in this fastest round of the championship that just 9.2sec cover the top six drivers.
 
“The opening stage went well and the second test was even better, because I was fastest,” said Solberg.  “I decided to make a small change to the car’s set-up before the final stage, making it slightly lower to try to improve the performance even further.  Unfortunately it didn’t work and I lost a few seconds.
 
“Because today’s leg was so short, it was the right time to try something like that.  If it didn’t work the time loss was always going to be small.  Tomorrow I’ll go back to my previous settings and I’ll continue to push hard,” he added.
 
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson said: “I’m pleased we have completed these three stages without problems.  They are of a different character to the rest of the rally and it was important not to get caught out.  We didn’t and I’m looking forward to a full day’s driving tomorrow.” 
 
News from other Ford teams
 
Adapta World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson are fourth after a strong start in their Fiesta RS WRC.  M-Sport Ford World Rally Team duo Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet and Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk are eighth and ninth respectively, with the privately-entered car of Jari Ketomaa / Mika Stenberg rounding off the top 10.  Martin Prokop / Zdenĕk Hrůza are 11th in the Czech Ford National Team car, with Finns Matti Rantanen / Mikko Lukka in 14th. 
 
Tomorrow’s Route
 
The second leg is based much closer to Jyväskylä.  Competitors restart at 06.30 and tackle three loops of tests, mainly west of the city.  The final two loops are identical and the day then ends with a short super special stage at the Killeri trotting track on the edge of Jyväskylä.  The action finishes at 21.15 after nine stages covering 133.82km.
 
Leaderboard after Day 1
1.  S Loeb/D Elena                      FRA             Citroen DS3             15min 07.1sec
2= J-M Latvala/M Anttila                FIN             Ford Fiesta RS  15min 14.4sec
2= M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen                FIN             Citroen DS3             15min 14.4sec
4.  M Østberg/J Andersson               NOR             Ford Fiesta RS  15min 14.6sec
5.  T Neuville/N Gilsoul                BEL             Citroen DS3             15min 16.1sec
6.  P Solberg/C Patterson               NOR             Ford Fiesta RS  15min 16.3sec
7.  C Atkinson/S Prévot         AUS             Citroen DS3             15min 22.7sec
8.  E Novikov/D Giraudet                RUS             Ford Fiesta RS  15min 25.3sec
9.  O Tänak/K Sikk                      EST             Ford Fiesta RS  15min 28.2sec
10 J Ketomaa/M Stenberg         FIN             Ford Fiesta RS  15min 40.2sec

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