Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala won Rally GB today to give the 'Blue Oval' a much needed victory.
Latvala and Ford had had to watch Sebastien Loeb and Citroen win the last five events in succession, but in Wales the tide finally turned and the Finn put in a top performance at the wheel of his Fiesta RS WRC to take the honours.
Latvala took the lead of the tenth round in the 2012 World Rally Championship on Friday morning, when set the pace in SS3, Myherin 1. He then won all of the remaining day's stages to conclude the first leg with a 12.1 second advantage over his team-mate and early rally leader, Petter Solberg.
On Saturday morning, Jari-Matti pushed on and all-but doubled his overnight lead. He then maintained that gap on the repeat loop in the afternoon and after setting the pace in SS13, the short 3.04 km Celtic Manor test, took a 24.5 second cushion into today's final six stages. His eighth stage win of the event in SS16 this morning saw him increase his lead yet further and he eventually came through to take the spoils by 27.8 seconds.
It was his second win in succession in Wales, and very welcome as his last victory was right back at the start of the season in Sweden.
“This is a fantastic feeling,” Latvala said at the finish of SS19, “This is one of my best, best rallies and it just feels amazing. The car has been working so well. I have been very happy with the set-up.”
Loeb and Solberg meanwhile enjoyed a fantastic scrap for second on the final day. Solberg had finished day two 6.4 seconds ahead. But Loeb slashed that margin this morning to edge 2.9 seconds in front. Although Solberg came back on the final loop, re-taking the position in SS17, Loeb responded in SS18. Going into the event ending Power Stage, Loeb was 0.1 seconds in front and he held on in Walters Arena 2, with just 0.9 seconds splitting the two WRC champions at the finish.
“I have tried very hard and it was getting very, very slippery. It was a very good battle for second – an incredible fight,” said Loeb, who now looks poised to clinch his ninth WRC drivers' title in France next month, having increased his advantage from 54 points to 61.
“I lost too much time this morning,” Solberg conceded. “But I am very happy with my rally. I love this event and I have to say thank you to the whole team. The car has been perfect. I am very happy for Ford.”
Behind, Mads Ostberg was fourth, the second event in succession he has finished in P4. The Norwegian ran strongly right from the off and even set the pace yesterday in SS7. Engine problems on the final day, however, made for a nail-biting finish for the Adapta WRT man, although he still finished 18.9 seconds up on Mikko Hirvonen in fifth.
“It's been challenging. We're very pleased with the weekend though especially after our engine problems. The engine has been getting slower and slower but we made it in the end,” Ostberg stated.
Hirvonen in contrast had a tough weekend, although he did find his stride more on the final day and finished well by setting the top time in the Power Stage and taking the maximum three bonus points.
“I was really struggling for pace early in the rally,” admitted the Citroen man, who had been hoping to challenge for the win this weekend [see our exclusive pre-event interview with him - HERE
]. "But it is nice to finish like this. Today I felt more confident, although it is not the result I came for.”
Evgeny Novikov was next up for the M-Sport Ford WRT, albeit more than 2 minutes off Hirvonen. He felt it was a 'good result', however, and was happy to be at the end after he went off the road in SS14 – the first test this morning - and lost around 30 seconds.
Thierry Neville was seventh on his first outing in Wales and despite running first on the road on day one, he was very consistent: “It was good but it was a bit strange to drive slowly throughout, although it was important for the confidence not to make a mistake,” said the Belgian.
Britain's Matthew Wilson returned to the WRC and was eighth ahead of Martin Prokop and Nasser Al-Attiyah, the latter gaining two places in the final stage to move up into the final points' paying position.
“This is my first time in the car since Monte Carlo. I absolutely loved and enjoyed every minute,” Wilson remarked. “The result may not be as good as last year but in terms of performance, it's a massive improvement and step forwards. I've enjoyed every single minute.”
“It was very tough after Germany when I felt that I could do nothing right with the car,” Prokop added, “but we were in good shape here. I look forward to returning next year now. This result was very important for me.”
Of the rest, Chris Atkinson was a disappointing eleventh on his first outing on gravel with the WRC MINI Team Portugal squad. The Aussie looked like he might have got a point near the end, but broken rear suspension in the final test let him down. After Atkinson, Sebastien Ogier took P12 in his VW Motorsport-run Skoda Fabia S2000, followed by SWRC winner Craig Breen and SWRC runner up, Tom Cave.
Breen took the SWRC honours in the end by over 2.5 minutes, with Yazeed Al-Rajhi third in the class. It was an emotional result for Breen, who won the Academy class title here twelve months ago with his former co-driver, Gareth Roberts. Roberts was of course killed earlier this year in an IRC event: “Last year we did the job and this year I've done the job and I wish that Gareth was here with me. I'm so glad I've done it, I know he's here,” said a tearful Breen after the final stage.
In terms of retirements, the biggest name to go out was Ott Tanak. Tanak had been on course for sixth in his M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta, a position he had held practically all event. However after a spin this morning in Port Talbot 1, worse was to come in the afternoon and he knocked off a wheel on the repeat-run through.
Paulo Nobre also retired today with a mechanical problem sidelining him before SS17.
The WRC now moves to France in a few weeks time, with that event running from October 4-7.
To view the result for the 2012 Wales Rally GB - CLICK HERE