Ford World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila climbed to second place in Rally de España after an impressive performance through this morning’s asphalt speed tests. The Finns completed the opening loop of the second leg just 18.9sec from the lead of this 13th and final round of the FIA World Rally Championship in a Fiesta RS World Rally Car.
After yesterday’s gruelling loose surface speed tests, the team’s mechanics transformed Latvala’s car from gravel specification to asphalt trim for the final two days of sealed surface competition. Ahead of the competitors today lay two identical loops of three smooth, sweeping special stages covering 161.30km north-west of the Costa Daurada coastal resort of Salou.
The roads were still damp after yesterday’s downpours and Latvala, third overnight, opted for Michelin’s soft compound tyres. He started superbly by winning the opening 20.48km La Mussara test by seven seconds. The 27-year-old Finn was second in the daunting 45.97km El Priorat to move to second overall, and ended the loop with second fastest in the 14.20km Riba-roja d’Ebre.
“Before this rally I tested in damp conditions and the work we did there gave me confidence in the car set-up here,” he said. “The roads in the first stage were damp like at the test, so I knew that I could attack and be comfortable.”
Latvala is engrossed in a battle for third in the drivers’ points standings with Mads Østberg, and must juggle his ambitions. “I would like to try to challenge for the lead but my fight with Mads for third in the championship is also important. It’s an exciting battle and if the positions stay as they are at the moment, then that will only be decided by the bonus points in the Power Stage tomorrow,” he added.
Team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson restarted in 41st position with the time penalties incurred by yesterday’s retirement. With the Fiesta RS WRC restored to full health, the 37-year-old Norwegian driver focused on a clean but cautious morning. He set a fifth-fastest and two sixth-quickest times to return to the Salou service in 24th.
“I’m just driving to take the car to the finish because I lost too much time yesterday to challenge for a top 10 place,” admitted Solberg. “The roads were very muddy, especially the last stage, and it wasn’t easy driving in such conditions.”