Ford World Rally Team maintained its grip on first and second places in Wales Rally GB during today’s second leg. Overnight leaders Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila increased their advantage over Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson to 24.5sec, both pairings at the wheel of Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars.
After winning all six speed tests yesterday, the Ford duo won five of the seven special stages today. Latvala claimed three wins and Solberg topped the timesheets twice, the Ford duo winning all four stages this afternoon.
Today’s competition was based further south than yesterday. Competitors tackled two identical loops of three gravel speed tests in forests and on military land clustered around Llandovery in the Brecon Beacon mountains. The day ended with a short asphalt test over utility roads at the Celtic Manor resort, host to golf’s Ryder Cup in 2010. The seven stages covered 95.36km.
Fog shrouded parts of the morning stages, with visibility down to 100 metres as the mist hung between the trees. On higher ground glorious sunshine provided a complete contrast.
The tracks were drier than yesterday, but still slippery in many sections, and a combination of mud and cool temperatures encouraged Latvala and Solberg to use Michelin’s soft compound rubber this morning. Solberg retained soft tyres this afternoon, but Latvala fitted harder covers to the front of his car before the final forest stage, as the drying gravel provided more grip and abrasive conditions.
Latvala widened his lead with second fastest time over the opening two stages before winning the final test of the morning loop.
“It was slippery but those conditions have always suited this car,” said 27-year-old Latvala. “The first 1.5km of the opening stage were very wet under the trees. Cars cutting across the grass made the surface muddy and twice I was almost off the road before my co-driver told me to calm down.”
He maintained a strong pace this afternoon, adding another two stage victories to return to the final overnight halt in Cardiff in a confident mood. The Finn is a keen golfer and he was particularly pleased to win the short test at the Celtic Manor golf resort.
“It was the best super special stage that I’ve driven,” he said. “Winning was like getting a hole-in-one! I had another superb day but I can’t afford to relax. If the weather turns bad tomorrow then the roads will be slippery and a 25 second lead can disappear easily in such conditions. I’ve always enjoyed this rally and perhaps it’s the event where the set-up of the car and my driving come together best.”
Solberg was uncomfortable with his car’s set-up this morning, which he felt was too soft for the conditions. His advantage over third-placed Sébastien Loeb was cut to 3.9sec, but the Norwegian stiffened the suspension on his Fiesta RS WRC and raised the ride height at the mid-leg service in Cardiff. Two wins this afternoon justified his decision and he widened his advantage to 6.4sec.
“This morning I had the same set-up on the car as yesterday, but the roads had different characteristics and the settings were too soft and too low,” said 37-year-old Solberg. “On the better surfaces it was fine, but in the softer sections the car bottomed out in the ruts. The final stage of the loop was the worst and that’s where I dropped time.
“The changes made a big difference and I won two stages. I worked hard today to keep my rivals behind and I must do the same tomorrow. First and second would be so important for Ford and both Jari-Matti and I must ensure we maintain these positions to the finish,” said Solberg.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with his drivers but stressed that they could not afford to ease up. “The pressure will be on tomorrow but Jari-Matti is in a position where he can control his pace, and the target is obviously to bring the cars home in first and second. We carried on where we left off yesterday with the lion’s share of stage wins and fastest sector times. Petter endured a tough morning, but both drivers did exactly what we asked of them,” he said.
News from other Ford teams
Adapta World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson enjoyed another clean run to hold fourth in a Fiesta RS WRC. M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk remain sixth but the Estonians closed on fifth-placed Mikko Hirvonen. Team-mates Evgeny Novikov / Ilka Minor lie seventh, with Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin in ninth and top Britons. Martin Prokop / Zdenĕk Hrůza are 10th in the Czech Ford National Team car.
The final leg is the shortest of the weekend and covers tests close to the rally base in Cardiff. After restarting at 06.00, drivers face two identical loops of three special stages in Margam Park and the Vale of Neath. The loops are split by a return to the Cardiff service park and comprise 83.10km of competition. The final test forms the Power Stage, with bonus points on offer to the fastest three drivers. The finish ceremony takes place in Cardiff at 15.36.
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