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Solberg settles into third after solid start for Ford in Sardinia

Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson headed Ford World Rally Team’s challenge in Rally Italia Sardegna after tonight’s quickfire opening leg. They lie third in a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, while team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila hold sixth after hitting a rock and damaging a front wheel.

Solberg was 13.9sec from the lead as competitors returned to the rally base in Olbia. Latvala’s time loss left him 42.1sec from top spot, with three more days of competition remaining in this 12th and penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Latvala and Solberg were first and second in qualifying this morning, earning them the priority pick of start positions for tonight’s two gravel speed tests covering 56.28km. 

Latvala opted for first in the order, gambling that the disadvantage of running first on slippery loose gravel would be outweighed by avoiding hanging dusk in the still evening air and completing the second special stage before darkness fell.

Solberg opted for third and the 37-year-old Norwegian had a troublefree run through both tests. “I’m satisfied with tonight. There was a delay before the start of the second stage and we didn’t have time to fit the extra lights to the car. It wasn’t too bad, but it was quite dark in the forest sections and it was tricky to pick the correct braking points,” he said.

Latvala expected to lose time on the loose gravel during the first pass, and the 27-year-old Finn was fifth, 15.3sec from the lead. He was confident of regaining time in the second pass but clipped a rock 10km after the start and drove the remaining 18km with a broken wheel, losing almost 30sec.

“It happened at a left corner, which had some bedrock on the inside,” he explained. “I was faster into the bend than the first pass and I turned in more. I knew there was a rock, but with the extra speed I couldn’t avoid it. The impact broke the wheel and the air came out of the tyre. But to drive for so long like that and lose less than 30sec is amazing. It proves how strong Michelin’s tyres are.

“The gamble of running first on the road didn’t pay off because the conditions weren’t as we expected. Once the loose gravel had been swept away, it was damp beneath, and that offered good grip to everyone,” added Latvala.

News from other Ford teams

Adapta World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson were on course for second fastest time in the opening stage until they hit a stone near the finish and bent a steering arm on their Fiesta RS WRC. They made repairs after the test and safely completed the second test to lie fifth. M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov / Ilka Minor are seventh, two places ahead of team-mates Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk, who regretted choosing hard compound tyres. Martin Prokop / Zdenĕk Hrůza completed the top 10 in their Czech Ford National Team car.

Tomorrow’s route

The second leg is the longest of the rally and covers new stages along the north coast. After leaving Olbia at 07.00, drivers tackle the Monte Lerno test, famed for its spectacular jump, before two new stages near Sassari. After a short service in the town, they repeat the two tests before a second pass through Monte Lerno. Drivers return to Olbia for an overnight halt after 117.36km of action.

Leaderboard after Day 1
1. S Loeb/D Elena                              FRA                 Citroen DS3                37min 59.1sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen                    FIN                   Citroen DS3                38min 00.2sec
3. P Solberg/C Patterson                NOR                Ford Fiesta RS          38min 13.0sec
4. T Neuville/N Gilsoul                        BEL                  Citroen DS3                38min 25.3sec
5. M Østberg/J Andersson              NOR                Ford Fiesta RS          38min 32.6sec
6. J-M Latvala/M Anttila                   FIN                  Ford Fiesta RS          38min 41.2sec
7. E Novikov/I Minor                        RUS                Ford Fiesta RS          38min 50.3sec
8. C Atkinson/S Prévot                       AUS                 Mini John Cooper        39min 28.0sec
9. O Tänak/K Sikk                            EST                 Ford Fiesta RS          39min 30.5sec
10 M Prokop/Z Hrůza                       CZE                 Ford Fiesta RS          39min 47.3sec

Bucuresti, 18.10.2012

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