Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila produced an inspired performance to power into the lead of Wales Rally GB during today’s third leg in the forests of central Wales. The Finnish duo won four of the six speed tests in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, including a clean sweep of all three this afternoon, to establish a 6.1sec advantage.
Following an early morning Cardiff restart, the drivers in this 13th and final round of the FIA World Rally Championship journeyed north for two demanding loops of three special stages totaling 128.06km. Although yesterday’s heavy rain was replaced by bright sunshine, grip was at even more of a premium as the rough gravel tracks remained muddy and slippery.
Latvala began the day in second, just 1.1sec from the lead. In the opening 32.14km test in Hafren, the longest of the four-day rally, the 26-year-old attacked and the split times indicated he was on course to relieve Sébastien Loeb of the lead. However, midway through he overshot a turn and stalled the engine of his Fiesta RS WRC, losing nine seconds.
Over roads that have not always been kind to him in the past, Latvala recovered to win the next stage and claim second fastest in the final test of the loop, returning to the Builth Wells service park 7.3sec off top spot.
It was a thrilling cat-and-mouse battle for supremacy, and Latvala joked that he needed to ‘grab Loeb’s tail and pull him back in’ during the afternoon. The Ford Abu Dhabi driver did exactly that, producing a stunning charge to make up for his error. He won the repeat Hafren test by 8.6sec to snatch the lead and extended his hard-earned advantage with victory in the final two stages to ensure he will start tomorrow’s final leg from an advantageous first in the start order.
“I was angry with myself this morning,” he said. “The first stage started well and I was five seconds up on Loeb, but when I saw the split time I pushed too hard. In a really muddy section I went into a medium left corner too fast and couldn’t turn into the following tight left. I realised I wasn’t going to stop so I went down the access road and unfortunately stalled the engine.
“It’s been 18 months since I last won, but there’s a fire inside me and I feel hungry for victory. I must ensure I have the right set-up on the car but I have absolute confidence I will. Tomorrow’s stages are good, but they’re tricky and I need to be prepared for that. The plan is to be fast, flat-out and tidy. The cat needs to stay on top of the mouse now,” he added.
Evgeny Novikov and Denis Giraudet climbed from 11th to ninth in the team’s other surviving Fiesta RS WRC. “The grip level and conditions were better than yesterday and it wasn’t as muddy as I expected, but my set-up didn’t feel quite right. It was easy to make a mistake and there were a few ruts this afternoon, but I was quite happy with the roads,” explained the Russian driver.
Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said after Mikko Hirvonen’s brief stint in the lead yesterday before his retirement, it was good to have reclaimed top spot with Latvala. “We knew at lunchtime that Jari-Matti would be in good shape. He was annoyed with himself this morning, but he was strong over the difficult, polished roads this afternoon and the car ran perfectly. It’s great to be leading tonight. It’s the second time we’ve led and I hope we can see it through tomorrow,” he said.
News from other Ford teams
Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson retain third in their M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC, despite intermittent engine difficulties. Team-mates Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor benefited from the retirement of the former’s younger brother, Petter, to rise to a season-best fourth. Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin overcame an impact with a rock this morning and battled against understeer this afternoon to lie sixth, with FERM Power Tools crew Dennis Kuipers / Frederic Miclotte one spot behind in seventh after picking up aslow puncture in SS15. Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk held fifth until they lost two minutes after going off the road and damaging the cooling package, ending the day in eighth. Monster World Rally Team’s Ken Block / Alex Gelsomino are 10th, despite changing the gearbox at midday service. On their debut in a WRC car, Martin Prokop / Jan Tomanek climbed 20 positions to 35th after restarting under SupeRally rules following suspension damage yesterday.
The final day is the shortest of the rally and the closest to the Builth Wells service park. After leaving Cardiff at 04.45, drivers tackle two identical loops of three stages in the Brecon Beacon mountains and on the Epynt military ranges using a mix of asphalt and gravel roads. The final stage of the second lap forms the live TV Power Stage with bonus points available to the fastest three drivers. Competitors return to Cardiff for the finish at the city’s castle at 14.52 after 84.04km of action.
Leaderboard after Day 3
1. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 38min 37.9sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen DS3 2hr 38min 44.0sec
3. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 41min 21.8sec
4. H Solberg/I Minor NOR Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 44min 12.9sec
5. K Meeke/P Nagle GBR Mini John Cooper 2hr 44min 57.9sec
6. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 45min 43.5sec
7. D Kuipers/F Miclotte NLD Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 46min 35.3sec
8. O Tänak/K Sikk EST Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 46min 40.2sec
9. E Novikov/D Giraudet RUS Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 47min 00.2sec
10 K Block/A Gelsomino USA Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 52min 02.6sec