BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team man Jari-Matti Latvala has secured the victory on Rally Finland today, coming out top by 10.1 seconds.
Latvala, who was third fastest in the short opening test on Thursday night, finished the opening loop on Friday in second, just 1.3 seconds off Petter Solberg. He then put in a charge to cut the deficit to just 0.1 seconds in SS6, before moving into P1 in SS7 and eventually finishing the first day with a 9.1 second cushion.
Today he made a strong start, taking his fourth stage win of the event in SS14, to extend his lead to 22.5 seconds. Although he saw his advantage cut back to 10.6 seconds in the middle loop, he make sure of the victory in the final two tests, topping the times in the penultimate stage, before going third fastest in SS19.
In the end he finished the eighth round in the 2010 World Rally Championship comfortably ahead of his closest rival, to take his first win on home turf, his second of the 2010 WRC season, and his fourth in total.
"It's amazing to win my home rally and it's something I have dreamed of since I was a small boy," said Latvala. "The first time I watched this rally was in 1992 when I was seven and the only thing I could think about then was that I would never be able to drive as fast as the stars I was watching. In 2003 I drove this rally for the first time and still I never thought I would win. To win in front of my home fans, in a country where rallying means so much to everyone, is a dream.
"The team had some difficult times in the summer but both drivers led this rally and I won. It's a hugely important victory for the team and Ford. It was only during the final two stages that I really thought I could do it. I've learned that if you relax and make no mistakes then you can have a good rally. There have been so many people watching and it was a fantastic atmosphere – this is the best rally in the world," he added.
Sebastien Ogier meanwhile claimed the runners-up spot and the young Frenchman was again on form, winning four stages in total. It was a good performance from him, especially as this was only his second time in Finland in a World Rally Car.
"Even if it's difficult for me to be satisfied with second place, I have to say that this result is even better than I expected," Ogier admitted. "For our second Rally Finland, we were able to up the pace without overdoing it. I'm very satisfied with the second day as we've finished only ten seconds behind the winner. I'd really like to thank the whole team, which helped us fight right up until the finish."
Sebastien Loeb was next up and completed the rostrum. He had a somewhat difficult start, but fought his way back and got the better of Petter Solberg on the middle loop today to grab 'bronze' and an extra three points.
Although he saw his lead in the drivers' championship cut slightly – with Ogier gaining a few points by finishing second – he remains comfortably top, 52 points ahead with five rounds to go. The 2-3 result for the Citroen Total WRT also saw the manufacturer extend its lead over Ford from 47 points to 55.
"Bravo to Jari-Matti and Sebastien who drove great rallies," Loeb reflected. "It's good for the sport that the team didn't give any orders at the end of the race. The fifteen points I scored today are a precious help in view of the championship. I've achieved my aim in this rally."
Of the rest, Petter Solberg ended up 4.7 seconds off Loeb and what would have been his fifth podium of the 2010 WRC season. 'Hollywood' began the day in contention for the win, just 9.1 seconds behind Latvala, but sadly he was not only unable to fight for the victory, but also unable to hold off Ogier and Loeb.
"It has been a good rally, and though I am disappointed that I lost my podium, it has been good fun to drive this weekend and to fight with the big teams," Petter said. "I really tried to keep Loeb behind me, but I lost too much time on the stages that I didn't drive last year. You need to experience them to be able to drive them fast. It has been a good close fight both days though, the car was perfect and the stages and the atmosphere here fantastic, so – yes, it really has been a good weekend!"
Dani Sordo took fifth, albeit more than a minute off Solberg and unable to keep up with the trio of Citroen's in front. The Spaniard won't be pleased, as he has been demoted to the Citroen Junior Team for the remaining gravel rounds of 2010, and on this performance it appears Citroen made the right call. Sordo has also lost his place with the Citroen 'A' for 2011 too.
"We were right on the pace at the start of the rally. That's a really positive thing. The car was competitive too. I would have preferred a better final result but the experience that we have accumulated is important. Now I'm going to concentrate hard on the end of the season," Sordo vowed.
Britain's Matthew Wilson was a lonely sixth in his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC car, and over 3.5 minutes off P5. The Englishman came under increased pressure late on from Mads Ostberg, but just managed to stay in front of the Subaru Impreza WRC privateer - 7.1 seconds splitting the two after the final test.
"I'm really happy to have finished sixth at this rally – we maintained a steady pace throughout and it's definitely paid off," Wilson said. "It's always a difficult event to do well in as there are so many locals competing who know the stages very well.
"This morning's [Saturday] stages was tricky but we managed to keep everything under control. There was something wrong with my steering towards the end of the day – I think the car may have go back to the workshop and be fully stripped and checked. It was getting close with Östberg towards the end but we made it out in front which was a great ending to a very difficult rally."
WRC legend and four-time champion, Juha Kankkunen came in eighth on his first outing at the top level since 2002. The 51-year-old eased off near the end, but still put in a very respectable run, posting a number of top-ten times - his best results, two sevenths.
"I was proud to hear the support of so many fans this weekend and was very happy to be here with some of the best rallying people in the world – many of them have known me for more than 20 years," Kankkunen stated.
"Today was a long day and I struggled to warm up first thing but it was nice to entertain the big crowd with some slides this weekend – even though that's not the fastest way to go! I drove at my own pace for this rally and didn't try to catch the title-chasers. My aim was to finish in the top ten so I am very happy to have taken eighth."
SWRC runners, Juho Hanninen and P-G Andersson completed the top ten, the former taking the Super 2000 honours by over a minute, while Patrik Sandell was third to give the Skoda Fabia S2000 a 1-2-3 sweep in that category.
As for the PWRC, Ott Tanak claimed gold - 1.5 minutes up on fellow Mitsubishi Lancer runner Jukka Ketomaki.
Tanak also beat F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen, who finished down in 25th after losing over 9 minutes this morning in SS12. The former Ferrari and McLaren F1 man had been running eighth.
"We arrived a bit too quickly into a corner at the start of SS9," Raikkonen recalled. "The car slid towards the outside and became stuck in a ditch. It was unfortunately a place where there were no spectators nearby. Several eventually came running to help get us out. We had to change a wheel in order to complete the stage. The front bumper was broken, but there was no other serious damage. We were then able to continue the rally with no further issues."
Raikkonen though wasn't the only major name to have problems and in terms of retirements, the two biggest casualties were BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT #1 Mikko Hirvonen and Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg, both crashing out on Friday.
Hirvonen led initially, before he rolled his Focus multiple times in SS4. The Finn escaped unharmed, as did his co-driver, Jarmo Lehtinen, but the car was badly damaged and he was not able to re-join. Henning's accident was also quite a big one, and one that stopped him re-starting today under the SupeRally. He crashed out in SS8 while battling for a place in the top five.
The 2010 World Rally Championship now continues next month with the Rallye Deutschland running from August 20-22.STOP PRESS:
: To see the result following today's WRC Rally Finland - CLICK HERE.