As drivers with something to prove, Jari-Matti Latvala and Francois Duval's retirement from the Rally New Zealand could probably not have come at a worse time.

Latvala has been under pressure to perform recently after retirements in Finland and Germany, but despite showing front-running pace, he made it a trio of non-finishes after clipping a rock on the penultimate stage and terminally damaging his Focus.

Although Latvala had been enjoying a strong rally up to that point and was looking set for a second place finish behind team-mate Mikko Hirvonen, his failure to finish marks a disaster for the Ford team as their bid to beat Citroen in the manufacturers' standings took a potentially decisive knock.

Naturally, Latvala was disappointed to lose out on a large haul of points so close to the finish, but he insists he is prepared to pick himself up and re-motivate himself for the remainder of the season.

"I approached a long left bend where the later cars in the first pass had created a narrow line. I lost grip at the rear and the car went sideways. I floored the throttle to try to straighten up, but it turned and I went into the inside of the corner. I hit a bank, which had a rock buried in the sand, and the impact broke the radiator and the cooler.

"I knew straight away that it was over because the oil temperature and water warning lights came on. I'm disappointed because I lost points for myself and the team. I was going so well and was pleased with my driving here so I thought I could finish second. It's a bad feeling but after my problems in Germany, I've learned that I have to pick myself up and carry on."

Ironically enough, Latvala was joined on the sidelines by Duval ahead of their seat-swapping antics for Spain and Corsica when the Belgian gets bumped up to the works team and Latvala pilots the satellite Stobart Focus.

Indeed, Duval's hopes of leaving New Zealand on a high were dashed when he too crashed off into retirement. Like Latvala, Duval was having a fine rally - his first on gravel since Greece last year - and was looking set for a certain fifth place. However, a single mistake proved costly and left Duval in a ditch and out of the points.

"It was a second gear corner near the end of stage 17 and we caught a little bit of loose gravel and slid off the road. The car was not damaged but it became stuck and we were unable to get it out of the ditch. We were taking no risks on this stage so it was unlucky that our rally ended this way.

"We were starting to set some good times and my feeling was getting better each day after such a long time out of a WRC car on gravel. The next event for me is Spain and I am looking forward to getting back on asphalt again."

Furthermore, Matthew Wilson, team principal for both the Abu Dhabi and Stobart teams, admits he was surprised to see Duval crash off, particularly as his lead over Petter Solberg in sixth meant he didn't need to take risks.

"It has been an unfortunate end to what was looking to be another strong event for the Stobart team. Fran?ois' off was a huge disappointment after what has been a really strong drive considering his long break from gravel and I'm really surprised he went off after not putting a foot wrong all rally."


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