as flying Fords dominate in Sardinia
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team delivered a perfect performance on yesterday's second day of Rally d'Italia Sardegna to power up the leaderboard into second and third places.
Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila won all six demanding speed tests on the gravel roads of the Mediterranean island in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to climb from seventh to second. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen were second on every test in a similar Focus RS to take third position.
Remarkably the Finnish pairings are tied to the tenth of a second after two days and 266.16km of flat out driving on narrow tracks south of the rally base in Olbia. Latvala holds second on the tie-break rule – a faster time on the rally's opening stage giving him the nod over his colleague. It also means that the 23-year-old will be second in the start order tomorrow, ahead of Hirvonen.
Two loops of three special stages covering 134.60km provided today's stern challenge. Early light rain cleared and the roads were essentially dry – just the conditions the BP Ford Abu Dhabi drivers wanted. Hirvonen, who restarted in fourth, and Latvala, in seventh, were in ideal road positions to attack their rivals ahead who had to endure more difficult conditions on the slippery gravel-covered surface.
With the loose stones swept from the roads by the cars ahead, the Focus RS duo set a blistering pace. They climbed to second and third on the final stage of the morning loop and continued their charge during the afternoon to end the day 29.4sec behind leader Sébastien Loeb. Such was Latvala's pace today that he was more than a minute quicker than Loeb.
"I was on the limit all day and when I woke up I could not have imagined taking a minute back from Loeb," said Latvala. "Maximum attack, my road position and a perfect car enabled me to do that. I was following Loeb's split times during the stages, not Mikko's, because that was who I was watching. My plan was solely to recover the time that I lost yesterday when I punctured. I took no risks this afternoon but dropped a little time on the final stage by trying too hard and over-driving. It won't be easy being second on the road tomorrow but I'm looking forward to a good battle."
Hirvonen had the unwanted position of being first in the start order yesterday and was delighted to reap the benefits of a lower position today. "I looked at the data from my car last night and decided not to make any changes to the set-up," said the 27-year-old. "Everything felt the same as yesterday but I set much better times. Maybe my bad road position yesterday was a bigger issue than we originally thought.
"My position tomorrow is better than Loeb and Jari-Matti, and Seb will need to drive flat out as he will be clearing the road for us. I didn't think first on the road would be so bad here, but I struggled yesterday and Loeb did the same today. He has a 29sec lead and that's still a big gap but we have a chance tomorrow. Much will depend on whether it is wet or dry," added Hirvonen.
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr restarted under SupeRally rules in 33rd place after retiring yesterday when they went off the road and broke a steering rod after hitting a rock in their Focus RS. They climbed to 20th, despite a puncture and brake problems this afternoon
"I made a couple of small changes after going off yesterday but in some of the fast sections the car wasn't stable," said Al Qassimi. "Trying to find the right pace was difficult and I had a small spin on the first stage when I missed a corner. I've tried different techniques to generate more speed in the fast sections but I’ve never driven on this surface and getting the feeling wasn't easy. We had to go through the final stage without any brakes. We lost time but I’m not too frustrated. This rally is about gaining experience and confidence on gravel and I think I'm starting to get a feel for the surface."
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson described his drivers' performances as 'stunning'. "Jari-Matti was fastest on every stage. I felt last night that we could climb to second and third but I didn't think we would do it as quickly as we did. There are still almost 80km remaining so we need to keep the pressure on. It looks good when you look at how much we've reduced the deficit," he said.
Team Round Up
Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) had the unenviable task of starting first on the road Saturday and sweeping slippery loose gravel from the surface, but retained his lead as Ford's duo closed in.
Stobart's Gigi Galli (Ford) climbed to fourth on the opening stage this morning before a spin cost him a place. However, the Italian regained fourth on the penultimate test. Dani Sordo (Citroen) was second overnight but struggled throughout and slipped to fifth with Chris Atkinson (Subaru) rounding off the top six.
Petter Solberg (Subaru) fell from third on the opening test and then stopped to change a puncture on the second stage. He ended the leg in 10th. The only major retirement was Toni Gardemeister (Suzuki), who stopped after the penultimate stage with broken rear suspension.