Ford World Rally Team endured a tough opening morning in this final round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Heavy rain made driving treacherously slippery, but as several top drivers fell by the wayside, Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila survived the demanding conditions to hold fifth in a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car.
Team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson retired after hitting a concrete block, but the privately-entered Fiesta RS WRCs of Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson and Estonians Ott Tänak and Kuldar Sikk took full advantage of better conditions for the early starters to lie first and second.
After last night’s start ceremony in the centre of Barcelona, the rally began in earnest today as drivers tackled three mostly gravel speed tests west of the event base in Salou. Latvala was fastest through the opening 7.00km Gandesa, but as the rain fell in the following 26.59km Pesells, the 27-year-old Finn found that his lower start position proved a disadvantage.
Standing water was a hazard but he emerged unscathed, except for a spin at a muddy hairpin near the finish, to set eighth fastest time. Latvala was sixth through the monster 44.02km Terra Alta test, which frequently alternated between gravel and asphalt, to return to the mid-leg service in Salou 55.1sec from the lead.
“The rain removed the slippery loose gravel, but it was replaced with standing water instead,” said Latvala. “I eased off, but still spun in the second stage. In the last test there was a 12 minute gap between the start times of the car ahead and myself. It was raining so hard that the ruts had filled with water again when I started and it was so slippery. I couldn’t drive any faster in those conditions.
“I opted for hard compound tyres on the front and soft on the rear and they were perfect for the first stage. If the rain had stopped, as we all expected, they would have been ideal for the next two stages also. But in the heavy rain, soft tyres all round would have been the right choice,” he added.
Solberg was fourth in Gandesa, but the 37-year-old Norwegian was one of several drivers to retire after hitting a large block of concrete close to the finish of Pesells. The impact damaged his car’s front left suspension and he retired from today’s action.