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Wales - day 1: Latvala shows way

5 December 2008

Jari-Matti Latvala sits at the top of the Wales Rally GB leader-board following the opening leg on Friday, which was extremely challenging due to the treacherous road conditions.

Originally competitors had been set to face almost 124 competitive kilometres today, but last night organisers took the decision to slash that by more than 50 per cent due to 'adverse weather' and so while runners were still due to take in Hafren, Sweet Lamb and Myherin, all three tests were cut in length.

This morning though there was more bad news when Hafren 1 was judged to be too icy and dangerous by the FIA's safety delegate. Sweet Lamb thus actually kicked off proceedings and initially Jari-Matti opted to play it cautiously and he was only ninth through that 4.28 km test.

However, the fastest time in Myherin - the longest test of the day - saw him haul himself up to third, 3.9 seconds off Sebastien Ogier, who remarkably led even though this was his debut outing in a WRC car.

On the second loop Jari again lost a bit of time in Sweet Lamb - Hafren was again axed - but with another quickest time in Myherin 2 he managed to seize the lead and heading into the two runs through Walters Arena enjoyed an 11.4 cushion.

In the end he finished the day with a 12.9 second advantage and potentially is on course for his second WRC win.

While he admitted he had two 'close escapes' in SS3, a number of the runners had moments in the icy conditions, including Latvala's team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen - who lost over 3.5 minutes with a roll in SS5.

"Conditions were extreme with heavy rain, snow, ice, mud and water – but I'm happy!" said Latvala. "Today's stages are the most difficult of the rally but the weather made them even harder. In places I couldn't see because my wipers couldn't work fast enough.

"Pirelli's tyres worked well on the gravel, which they are designed for, but it was hard to stop the car in the ice and snow. It's a shame the stages were shortened and cancelled because they are great roads but it was the right decision. I would have been happy on those roads with winter tyres, but not with this rubber."

Sebastien Loeb meanwhile heads the chasing pack for Citroen, the Frenchman having been eighth fastest in SS2, third in SS3, first in SS5 and second in SS6. Like Jari he had a big moment in Myherin 1.

"Mud made the second pass even more delicate than the first," said Seb. "The start of SS6 was even delayed because of a hailstorm! Our hard compound tyres weren't exactly in their element in the mud and couldn't provide enough grip. We aren't allowed to 're-cut' the tread patterns either, so we couldn't get extra grip that way. All in all, though, I think we came through the day fairly well."

Next up is Per-Gunnar Andersson and the Swede is currently on course to give Suzuki its first ever podium result at the 'senior' level. P-G is 9.6 seconds off Loeb and fractionally up on Mads Ostberg in fourth.

"It's been a great day today, and I am very proud to be on the podium overnight; the first time that this has happened for me or Suzuki with the SX4 WRC," said Andersson. "This just goes to show that all the hard work we have put in over the year is really starting to pay off. Conditions today have been as bad as I can remember on the Rally GB: even the road sections were slippery! But I've really enjoyed today and I am aiming for another strong run tomorrow."

Ostberg had been second until he spun his Adapta-run Impreza WRC car in SS6. However he still ended the day in front of the 'works' Subaru driven by Petter Solberg.

Further down the order Dani Sordo and Francois Duval came in sixth and seventh, while Henning Solberg is eighth.

Sebastien Ogier and Matt Wilson rounded out the top ten, the former having had a great day in his semi-privateer C4 WRC. Indeed Ogier was sensational and made the most of his more favourable position on the road early on. He led until SS5 when he was stopped briefly with a gearbox problem.

Of the other runners Toni Gardemeister lies 11th - with Barry Clark 12th, one spot ahead of current P-WRC leader Guy Wilks.

Wilks is competing for both Production honours and points in the British Rally Championship this weekend - although with the title up for grabs in the BRC that is very much more his focus than the P-WRC.

Guy currently leads the P-WRC by almost 30 seconds, with Patrik Flodin second – he is also registered for points in both the P-WRC and BRC – and then Andreas Aigner third.

In terms of retirements a number of runners had problems and went out - most noticeably Chris Atkinson, who crashed heavily in SS7. Atkinson hit his head in the incident and was taken to hospital for precautionary checks.

Day 1 of the WRGB also claimed a number of scalps in the PWRC, including Mark Higgins, who crashed in SS3 and Juho Hanninen, who got stuck in a water splash in SS6.

For the record, MotoGP star Valentino Rossi is still going – he finished day 1 in 24th position.

The action now continues on Saturday with seven stages on the bill and just under 130 competitive kilometres. SS9, the 30.68 kilometre Resolfen 1 test, starts at 08.18 hours local time.


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