Latvala claims points despite drama

Latvala claims points despite dramaFrom Ford Press [ 26/04/2009 ].
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BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished sixth on Rally Argentina today after bouncing back from a final day drama. The Finns were on course for third in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car until they lost an agonising eight minutes on this morning's opening speed test which dropped them to seventh. However, they battled back to claim their second points finish of the FIA World Rally Championship season after a hot, rough and dusty fifth round.

Rally Argentina is one of the championship's classic events and huge crowds estimated at more than a million people flocked into the pampas to view the action.  The gravel tracks in the mountains near Carlos Paz in Cordoba province were rocky and rougher than normal after an unusual spell of warm weather in the south American autumn.  Temperatures reached 26ºC during the weekend after a cloudy and cool opening day on Friday.

Competitors tackled 23 special stages covering 331.80km during the four days of action.  The route included three passes over a spectacular test inside Cordoba's international soccer stadium and a double pass over the famous El Condor and Giulio Cesare tests. high amid the stunning rock formations of the Traslasierra mountains.

Latvala's pre-rally target was a cautious drive to the finish as he rebuilt his confidence following a violent accident in Portugal last month when his car plunged 150 metres down a hillside.  The 24-year-old ended the opening day in sixth after damaging a tyre following a heavy landing and losing further seconds when his car's cooling system became blocked.  However, he climbed to third yesterday, despite a bizarre incident when his bonnet broke loose and flew clear over the top of the car.

His podium hopes ended about 6km after the start of this morning's first stage.  "We came down a long straight and through a watersplash with two crests just afterwards.  The rear of the car hit the crown of one of the crests, a warning light came on and the engine stopped.  I tried lots of different things to restart it before eventually rebooting the whole system, after which the engine fired up.  It was just bad luck.  I'm disappointed to lose the podium but pleased to finish," said Latvala.

"There are no scratches on the car and it was a positive weekend for us.  I feel much stronger after this rally and I've learned a lot.  I drove cautiously, adopting a different style, and it was successful.  Our pace notes worked well and I feel everything is on course, my self-confidence is good again.  It was good to learn what can and can't be done and to know my limits," he added.

Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen retired during yesterday's second leg with an overheating problem in the engine of their Focus RS WRC.  The Finns were just 6.1sec from the lead when the water temperature suddenly climbed to 140ºC and Hirvonen was forced to stop.  Due to the excessive temperature, the team did not want to risk running the car today under SupeRally rules, electing to retire from the event and carry out a full analysis on the engine back at its base in the UK.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson admitted Argentina had not been kind to the team.  "It was a disappointing weekend, especially as we were challenging for victory yesterday afternoon.  It was Mikko's first retirement since 2006 and ended his run of 22 consecutive points finishes going back to the same year.  I'm pleased with Jari-Matti's progress.  He was on course for a podium and I'm disappointed to lose that, but this rally was good for his confidence

Ford of Europe motorsport director Mark Deans said: "This wasn't a great weekend from a championship perspective but the season is still in its first half and we'll regroup, we'll keep fighting and continue to challenge," he said.    

News from other Ford teams

Stobart drivers Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud finished third in their Focus RS, climbing from fifth today following Latvala's problem and the retirement of brother Petter with fuel pressure troubles.  Munchi's duo Federico Villagra and Jorge Perez Companc delighted their home fans by taking fourth, a career-best result for driver and team, edging out Stobart pair Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin by 11.2 sec. 

Next round

The championship returns to Europe as it reaches the halfway point of the season on the Italian island of Sardinia next month.  Round six is the gravel Rally d'Italia Sardegna, which is based in Olbia on 21 - 24 May.

Final positions
1.  S Loeb/D Elena                      FRA             Citroen C4              3hr 57min 40.3sec
2.  D Sordo/M Marti                     ESP             Citroen C4              3hr 58min 53.4sec
3.  H Solberg/C Menkerud                NOR             Ford Focus RS   4hr 01min 44.4sec
4.  F Villagra/J Perez Companc  ARG             Ford Focus RS   4hr 03min 40.0sec
5.  M Wilson/S Martin           GBR             Ford Focus RS   4hr 03min 51.2sec
6.  J-M Latvala/M Anttila               FIN             Ford Focus RS   4hr 07min 30.3sec
7.  N Al-Attiyah/G Bernacchini          QAT             Subaru Impreza  4hr 20min 51.9sec
8.  J Marchetto/J Diaz                  ARG             Mitsubishi Lancer       4hr 21min 14.6sec
9.  S Ogier/J Ingrassia                 FRA             Citroen C4              4hr 21min 34.2sec
10 M Ligato/R Garcia                    ARG             Mitsubishi Lancer       4hr 23min 04.8sec