Ford World Rally Team's Jari-Matti Latvala has extended his advantage on Wales Rally GB this afternoon.
Latvala, who moved to the fore this morning with a storming time in Myherin 1, began the repeat loop with a 3.3 second cushion over Sebastien Loeb. The Finn immediately stretched that in Dyfnant 2 though, completing the test 2 seconds up on his French rival. Latvala then set the pace again in SS5, and with Loeb struggling and slipping down to third overall, he went into the final test 11.8 seconds ahead. Jari-Matti wasn't finished however, and another stage win in SS6 – his fourth on the trot – has left him 12.1 seconds out front as competitors head back to Cardiff for service B.
“It was a tough day but I couldn't be happier than I am tonight,” said Latvala. “The roads were wet and muddy but slippery roads suit me. The team has worked hard since the last gravel rally to improve the balance of the suspension at the rear of the car and our efforts paid off today.”
“We can't relax yet though because our rivals will attack. Tomorrow's stages were drier on the recce so unless it rains tonight, conditions should be better, and with a lower start order that will help,” he added.
Petter Solberg meanwhile has also enjoyed a very good day in the other works Ford Fiesta RS WRC car, and he won the first two stages to take the early lead. Although he slipped to third in SS3, he fought back on the afternoon loop, moving ahead of Loeb and up into second in SS5. Petter now lies 9.2 seconds up on the Frenchman.
“After winning the first two stages I decided to ease the pace a little for the third test, which I didn't drive last year. I measured my speed on the split times of Sebastien Loeb ahead, but what I didn't realise was that Jari-Matti was driving much faster behind! It's a great start but if we want to keep first and second places then we have to keep pushing because we won't get it for free,” Solberg said.
Loeb in contrast hasn't really been able to match the Fords, and even remarked after SS5 that it was 'impossible to fight them'. He has no doubt got one eye on the title though, and will be eager to score strongly here so as he puts himself in a position to clinch his ninth drivers' title next month in France – his home event. He will also want to do well to help Citroen try and sow up the manufacturers'.
“There was even less grip than on the first run and these are clearly not the conditions in which we are most comfortable. Having said that, I certainly wasn't looking to push beyond the limits, because first and foremost, we want to score points for the World Championships,” Loeb confirmed. “The fact we had two spare wheels with us all day also cost us a few seconds. It wasn't really necessary, because we didn't have as much tyre wear as we had expected.”
Behind, Mads Ostberg continues to impress and is fourth in his Adapta WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC, 11.3 seconds off Loeb and 21.2 seconds up on Mikko Hirvonen in the second works Citroen DS3 WRC car.
“I think this afternoon was quite good to be honest. We didn't manage to keep up the pace with Jari-Matti and Petter which was what we wanted, but we continued to take time from Mikko,” Ostberg commented. “I think we did quite a good job on SS6. We knew from the first pass that we had some challenges with the pacenotes there and I tried to push really hard to lose as little time as possible. We had some interesting moments, but we got through OK with no dints on the car! I am quite pleased with fourth position and we are not too far off the guys in front, so I am for sure looking forward to tomorrow now.”
Hirvonen had been hoping to challenge for the win this weekend [see our exclusive pre-event interview with him - HERE
]. But he has been quite a bit off the pace and on current form looks like he is going to struggle to get on the podium.
“We are definitely short on grip on this fine layer of greasy mud,” Hirvonen said. “From my side, I made a mistake in trying to look after my tyres for the rest of the rally. I should have done the same as Seb and switched the tyres around for the last two stages.”
Ott Tanak is next up and sixth for the M-Sport Ford WRT, although he has had power steering problems all day. He also reported an issue with the right rear in SS6 and is thus quite a distant sixth, with team-mate, Evgeny Novikov seventh and Citroen Junior WRT man Thierry Neuville eighth.
“The stages were a bit better on the second loop – it wasn't so rough any more, it was quite smooth,” Tanak stated. “The car was feeling quite nice to drive and we are starting to get the feeling back on gravel again now. We will see what the weather will do tomorrow but for sure I am hoping we can push a little bit more and set some good times.”
“This afternoon was OK,” Novikov added, “but we took six tyres with two soft spares which we put on the front of the car for the second stage [SS5]. This was not such a good idea – the balance of the car was off and it meant that there was a lot of 'sideways'. But apart from that everything is fine. The car is working well and I am really enjoying the stages.”
Matthew Wilson and Martin Prokop round out the provisional points scorers at this stage, the former making his first appearance in the WRC since Monte Carlo all the way back in January.
“Today has been pretty frustrating in a way. But it has also been good – we have learnt quite a bit. The middle stage [SS5] was good again and we were much better through the last one [SS6] than we were this morning,” Wilson said. “Generally today has been OK. We are about where we expected to be and tomorrow we will just try to push and see where we will be.The only thing is that obviously we are going to be fairly early on the road and it could be fairly loose with the road clearing quite a lot behind. Hopefully we'll get some rain tonight and it might make things a bit easier!”
Of the rest, Chris Atkinson has opted to take it cautiously on his first run with the WRC MINI Team Portugal outfit on gravel, and he is eleventh, ahead of the VW Motorsport runner, Sebastien Ogier in his Skoda Fabia S2000, then Nasser Al-Attiyah and SWRC class leader, Craig Breen. Breen heads the SWRC by over a 1 minute post-SS6, with Yazeed Al-Rajhi second in the class and Tom Cave third.
In terms of retirements, Per-Gunnar Andersson and Haydon Paddon were probably the most notable casualties today. Andersson, who heads the SWRC classification, went out in SS2 after losing a wheel, while Paddon, his chief championship rival, was sidelined by mechanical gremlins.
Wales Rally GB now continues on Saturday, with another two loops of three stages on the bill, plus the short 3.04 km Celtic Manor test at the end of the day. Leg two includes 95.36 competitive kilometres in total, with SS7, Crychan 1, due to start at 09.02 hours local time.Wales Rally GB: Overall standings after Stage 6 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC 1hour 25mins 05.7secs
2. Petter Solberg
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 12.1secs
3. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 21.3secs
4. Mads Ostberg
Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 32.6secs
5. Mikko Hirvonen
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 53.8secs
6. Ott Tanak
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 19.2secs
7. Evgeny Novikov
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 32.8secs
8. Thierry Neuville
Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC +02mins 27.9secs
9. Matthew Wilson
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 17.0secs
10. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 36.8secsOthers
11. Chris Atkinson
WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +04mins 11.6secs
12. Sebastien Ogier
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +04mins 19.0secs
13. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +05mins 09.7secs
14. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta S2000 +05mins 31.2secs
15. Kevin Abbring
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +05mins 49.6secs
18. Jannie Habig
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +07mins 57.5s
20. Paulo Nobre
WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +11mins 00.5secsSWRC standings after Stage 6 - Top 3:
1. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta S2000 1hour 30mins 36.9secs
2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi
Ford Fiesta S2000 +01mins 14.0secs
3. Tom Cave
Proton Satria Neo S2000 +02mins 26.1secs
SS2. Per-Gunnar Andersson
Proton Satria Neo S2000 Lost a wheel
SS2/3. Alastair Fisher
Ford Fiesta S2000 Suspension damage
SS3/SS4. Haydon Paddon
Skoda Fabia S2000 Mechanical
Sall times unofficial