Latvala wins as Ford take 1-2

Latvala wins as Ford take 1-2From Ford Press [ 24/05/2009 ].
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BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team claimed a dominant one-two finish on Rally d'Italia Sardegna today with the Focus RS World Rally Car. Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila led from start to finish to claim their second career win in the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finns reached the podium in the resort of Porto Cervo with a 29.4sec advantage over team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen after three days of tough competition on the Mediterranean island.

Latvala's victory was his first since his maiden WRC success in Sweden in February 2008 and it was BP Ford Abu Dhabi's first one-two result since Rally Japan in November 2008.  Ford, second in the manufacturers' championship, closed the gap on the leader after six of the 12 rounds with a maximum points haul.  Hirvonen climbs to second in the drivers' standings with Latvala moving up to sixth.

Competitors tackled 17 speed tests covering 347.12km over narrow, flowing and rough gravel tracks near Olbia during three days of competition.  Allied with searing temperatures, which topped 35ºC yesterday afternoon, the conditions placed big demands on cars, crews and Pirelli's Scorpion tyres.  However, neither Focus RS WRC missed a beat in the Sardinian hills.

Latvala's win came the hard way.  After leading throughout the opening leg, the 24-year-old had the disadvantage of opening the special stages for the final two days, sweeping them clear of gravel to leave a cleaner and faster line for those behind.  He started today with a 9.9sec lead and feared he would be unable to hold off his team-mate.  However, the still early morning allowed huge clouds of dust to hang in the air, slowing all those behind Latvala and he extended his lead.

"Last season I finished third here and I said to myself that I wanted to come back and win this year," said Latvala.  "It wasn't an easy weekend being first through the stages and I'm surprised, but delighted, to win because I thought Mikko would catch me this morning.

"The dust was a surprise and I was lucky with that.  This is a very important win for me.  I've had many unhappy moments since my first win, but now I'm back on the top step of the podium.  I was starting to question my role in the team but I've proved the team's confidence in me was right and I thank Malcolm Wilson (team director) for that. You saw a new evolution of Jari-Matti here," he added.

Hirvonen and Lehtinen both struggled with a fever during the rally and 28-year-old Hirvonen was exhausted at the finish.  "I have no energy and I've never felt so tired after a rally," he said.  "This result, and the timing of it, is perfect for Ford.  I thought I could fight for the win but the dust ended those hopes.  Everyone behind Jari-Matti expected to have an advantage because he was sweeping the road but, ironically, he was the one who benefited because of the dust.  I went off the road on a fifth gear corner in the first stage this morning because I couldn't see so I stopped taking risks.

"Jari-Matti deserves the win after his problems this season and I'm delighted for him.  We had a great pre-rally test and the work we did there paid off on the event itself," he added.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished 15th in another Focus RS WRC.  After climbing to seventh, despite power steering difficulties, they retired late last night after problems in the final service.  They restarted today under SupeRally rules and climbed to 10th until brake problems on the final test cost more than four minutes.  "It was a difficult three days.  We had a lot of bad luck with brakes and power steering, and then the problems last night in service.  It's a shame because we were going well yesterday and I felt we could have easily been in the points," said Al Qassimi.

Malcolm Wilson was full of praise for his drivers.  "They coped with whatever was thrown at them.  It's a dream to see Jari-Matti win after a difficult year and I'm delighted to see him full of confidence.  Mikko did an outstanding job and if the conditions were different this morning, there could have been a different winner.  It was a great team effort and my thanks go to everyone involved," he said.

Ford of Europe motorsport director Mark Deans said: "I'm thrilled we're back to the level where we can not only compete with, but beat, our rivals.  We have a huge mountain to climb in championship terms but we're back on top and it's a large step in the right direction.  We'll go to the next round in Greece, for another hot weather, rough road rally, full of confidence after a weekend in which we were in control from start to finish."  

News from other Ford teams

Stobart drivers Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin claimed sixth in a Focus RS, recovering well after losing time on the opening day when the hydraulic pipe split.  Team-mates Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud took the final drivers' point in eighth.  They started under SupeRally rules today after retiring on yesterday's penultimate test when they hit a tree and broke their car's front right suspension.

Next round

The championship enters its second half next month when the action switches to Greece.  The new base of Loutraki hosts the gravel Acropolis Rally of Greece on 11 - 14 June.

Final positions
1.  J-M Latvala/M Anttila               FIN             Ford Focus RS   4hr 00min 55.7sec
2.  M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen               FIN             Ford Focus RS   4hr 01min 25.1sec
3.  P Solberg/P Mills                   NOR             Citroen Xsara           4hr 02min 53.3sec
4.  S Loeb/D Elena                      FRA             Citroen C4              4hr 04min 39.4sec
5.  E Novikov/D Moscatt         RUS             Citroen C4              4hr 06min 07.5sec
6.  M Wilson/S Martin           GBR             Ford Focus RS   4hr 08min 25.0sec
7.  M Østberg/V Engan                   NOR             Subaru Impreza  4hr 14min 16.3sec
8.  H Solberg/C Menkerud                NOR             Ford Focus RS   4hr 14min 16.9sec
9.  N Al-Attiyah/G Bernacchini          QAT             Subaru Impreza  4hr 20min 39.4sec
10 P Sandell/E Axelsson         SWE             Skoda Fabia             4hr 20min 40.9sec