Ford World Rally Team avoided the dramas that afflicted the squad yesterday to enjoy a clean run through today’s third leg of Rally Italia Sardegna. With hopes of a top result ended after Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila both crashed, they avoided trouble in the penultimate leg to hold ninth and 15th respectively.
Both restarted their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars with time penalties after retiring from this 12th and penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship yesterday. With little to chase in terms of overall results, caution was the name of the game. However, Latvala still displayed sufficient pace to win the penultimate speed test and claim four second fastest times.
Today’s action covered traditional Rally Italia Sardegna territory in the scenic forests south-west of the event base in Olbia. Competitors tackled two identical loops of three narrow gravel special stages covering 115.92km. Sunshine ensured dry conditions, but loose gravel made driving slippery for the early starters, before rocks thrown up during the first pass made the tracks rough this afternoon.
Solberg restarted in 10th after retiring from second, and admitted that he struggled for motivation. His primary aim was to entertain the fans and the large crowds gathered in the hills enjoyed the 37-year-old Norwegian’s displays. He warmed to his task this afternoon with a second and two third fastest times, climbing to ninth overall in the penultimate test.
“Yesterday was such a big disappointment for me and the whole Ford team, and that carried over into today,” said Solberg. “It was a hard day because I had nothing to gain and I felt low. But I wanted to drive for the fans, who have always been so supportive here. I was very careful and didn’t push at all. My pace was faster this afternoon, but it’s tough to drive after losing a podium like that.”
Latvala’s main focus was to rebuild his confidence after a tough two days. He was under no pressure and the 27-year-old Finn enjoyed driving on one of his favourite rallies. After restarting in 25th, he climbed to 18th during the first loop of stages and moved up a further three positions this afternoon.
“My motivation today was to try to regain the good feeling I had during qualifying on Thursday, but which I lost during the first two legs,” said Latvala. “I didn’t enjoy either leg so today I tried to relax and have fun driving a great car over some great roads. The final round in Spain contains gravel roads during the first day so it was important to get my confidence back on the surface.
“I was careful when it was rocky and tried to push a little harder when it was smoother. I experimented with the tyres and damper settings and after the troubles of the first two legs, I enjoyed a good day,” he added.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on an improved day for the squad. “It was good to see that Jari-Matti regained his pace and confidence, which was important before Spain, and while Petter struggled this morning, he raised his speed this afternoon. Ford’s private drivers enjoyed another fantastic day, with Mads Østberg climbing back to fourth and Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tänak doing exactly what I asked of them,” he said.
News from other Ford teams
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team duo Evgeny Novikov / Ilka Minor and Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk remained second and third in Fiesta RS World Rally Cars. Neither had any problems, although Novikov lost a handful of seconds when he spun in stage 11. Adapta World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson were the men on the move. They won four stages to climb from seventh to fourth. Martin Prokop / Zdenĕk Hrůza had another tough day in the Czech Ford National Team car. They lost time this morning with a spin and a front right puncture, before going off the road briefly this afternoon. They remain eighth.
The final leg is a short and simple affair. After leaving Olbia at 08.30, drivers head north-west to twice tackle the 8.24km Gallura test, before the finish ceremony in Porto Cervo at 12.45. The second pass comprises the Power Stage, with bonus points on offer to the fastest three drivers.