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Latvala hits the front as Citroën play tactics

25 March 2011

It is the same four leaders as at the midway stage at the end of the first full day of the 2011 edition of Rally Portugal – only in precisely the opposite order, as Jari-Matti Latvala stormed to the head of the timing screens for the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, and erstwhile pace-setter Sébastien Ogier played the long game by deliberately slipping back to fourth place.

The key to Latvala's vault up the leaderboard from fourth to first was a magnificent run through the final test of the day, SS7 – his third fastest run of the event thus far, and happily banishing the memories of his terrifying crash on the very same 21.31-kilometre Felizes stage two years ago – and the Finn will enter the second day of the rally holding an 11.5-second advantage over team-mate and compatriot Mikko Hirvonen.

Although the Crash.net columnist will now be tasked with having to run first-on-the-road and thereby clear the Algarve tracks of their loose gravel surface on Saturday, he is unduly concerned.

“Of course there was a possibility to slow down and maybe that would have been the best thing,” he reflected. “Okay, it's not maybe the ideal position but it is what it is, and I'm not afraid of the conditions and what will be happening tomorrow.”

“I am really happy with how the day went,” added Hirvonen, the 'road sweeper' throughout Friday. “The car is working really well and is proof that we did a good test. Tomorrow will be absolutely flat-out and we will attack from the start. I'm feeling good – everything is fine.”

In contrast to the Ford duo's charge, Citroën Total World Rally Team pairing Ogier and namesake Sébastien Loeb both elected to surrender their positions at the top of the timesheets in slowing through SS7 to deliberately ensure themselves of better starting positions on day two. Loeb now sits third, 13.7 seconds off the lead, with Ogier precisely three seconds further back in fourth.

“I slowed to make sure I wasn't at the front,” confirmed the WRC's 'recordman'. “Mikko was very fast today – first-on-the-road and I couldn't get a gap to him. I think Ford is very dangerous here – they are going very fast. This afternoon, they were quicker than us. We have to find a solution.”

“Nobody knows exactly what will happen tomorrow so we will see,” mused Ogier. “You need to have a big gap to stay in the lead, but it was not possible to take that today because conditions were similar for everybody.”

The fifth competitor who had just about been hanging on in contention for glory is now sadly out of the hunt altogether. Having suffered no fewer than four punctures in his privately-run Citroën DS3 WRC – the last of which on the final stage – luckless former World Rally Champion Petter Solberg found himself with no more spare tyres and with no option other than to retire from the day, reasoning that he would have lost more time in limping through the remainder of the stage than he will with the ten-minute SupeRally time penalty he will carry on Saturday.

Petter's misfortune elevated elder brother Henning Solberg into fifth place, a fraction under five seconds ahead of M-Sport Stobart team-mate Matthew Wilson, with both drivers having struggled with minor engine issues during the morning.

Despite conceding to not pushing flat-out as he continues to learn about the car, Armindo Araújo has now leapfrogged ex-F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen into seventh overall on the WRC debut of the MINI John Cooper Works Super 2000 – and the home hero is confident there is plenty more to come from the Prodrive-developed machine. Fellow MINI driver Daniel Oliveira is 14 places and almost eight minutes further back, having encountered several mechanical gremlins.

Munchi's Fiesta ace Federico Villagra lies eighth ahead of Raikkonen – who was slowed by a puncture and an imperfect set-up on his Citroën DS3 WRC – with the recovering Khalid Al Qassimi completing the top ten. Bernardo Sousa's eye-catching performance, meanwhile, unfortunately ended when the Madeiran crashed his Ford Fiesta RS WRC out of ninth position less than six kilometres into the day's final stage.


Rally de Portugal: Overall standings after Stage 7 (Top 10):

1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC 1hr 23mins 31.4secs M
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 11.5secs M
3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 13.7secs M
4. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 16.7secs M
5. Henning Solberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 06.5secs M
6. Matthew Wilson M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 11.2secs A0
7. Armindo Araújo Motorsport Italia/BAMP Mini John Cooper Works S2000 +03mins 43.7secs A1
8. Federico Villagra Munchis Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 31.9secs M
9. Kimi Raikkonen ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC +04mins 33.1secs M
10. Khalid Al-Qassimi Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 35.2secs M

Others:

11. Dennis Kuipers FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 45.6secs M
13. Anders Grondal Subaru Impreza STi +06mins 32.7secs P
14. Peter Van Merksteijn Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC +07mins 14.0secs M
20. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +11mins 15.6secs M
21. Daniel Oliveira Brazil WRT Mini John Cooper Works S2000 +11mins 27.3secs M


PWRC standings after Stage 7 (Top 3):

1. Hayden Paddon Subaru Impreza STI 1hr 29mins 30.8secs P
2. Anders Grondal Subaru Impreza STi +00mins 33.3secs P
3. Ricardo Moura Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +03mins 21.2secs P


WRC Academy standings after Stage 7 (Top 3):

1. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta R2 1hr 36mins 21.4secs A
2. Egon Kaur Ford Fiesta R2 +00mins 48.4secs A
3. Alastair Fisher Ford Fiesta R2 +00mins 49.2secs A


Notable retirements:

Bernardo Sousa Team Quinta do Lorde Fiesta RS WRC Accident on SS7 A0
Mads Ostberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC Gearbox on SS2 M
Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Crashed in shakedown


all times unofficial


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