Ford remain on course for Rally Australia 1-2
10 September 2011
Jari-Matti Latvala will lead going into the final day of Rally Australia with his Ford Abu Dhabi team-mate Mikko Hirvonen second. However with Hirvonen still in with an outside chance in the drivers' championship, the positions are almost certain to be reversed on Sunday should the 'Blue Oval' remain 1-2 and well ahead of Petter Solberg in third.
In contrast to yesterday, blue skies and bright sunshine greeted competitors this morning, and while the roads were mostly dry, there were damp patches beneath the dense tree cover. Hirvonen headed the start order and while the damper areas provided good grip, the drier sections were covered in loose gravel. As such he had play the 'road sweeper' leaving a cleaner and faster line for those behind.
Latvala immediately took advantage and in the opening Welshes test [SS11], he seized the opportunity to move up from P2 to P1. Jari-Matti then headed Hirvonen in a Ford 1-2 through the Grace and Valla tests, before completing his clean sweep of stage wins in Urunga, SS14. Latvala thus returned to the mid-day service with a 17.2 second cushion.
On the repeat loop this afternoon, the 26-year-old continued to stretch his lead and following two more runs through the Coffs super specials this evening he now lies 22.7 seconds ahead.
Latvala is more than aware though that team orders are likely to come into force on Sunday: “Tomorrow will be demanding being first on the road,” he told the official WRC site. “We don't know how much the rain on Friday's has affected tomorrow's stages but we will find out in the morning. I have a passion to win - but I know the situation Mikko is in, so I will help him but we have to see what happens first.”
“The roads were much drier than we expected after yesterday's rain and first in the start order was a slippery place to be,” Hirvonen added. “Even in the forest areas the roads were only damp, rather than wet. It was trickier than I thought and because the roads were drier than anticipated, our car set-up was perhaps too soft this morning. The afternoon was also not easy. There were no clean tracks because the cars lower down the entry took a different line through the corners during their first pass, and messed up the clean route that had been created.
“Tomorrow morning Jari-Matti will sweep the road for us but we must be careful because there are some tricky places in the long stage. The roads are fast and narrow and I must be brave and put full trust in my pace notes.”
Petter Solberg meanwhile is still well on course for the final podium place in his privately entered Citroen DS3 WRC, although the gap to the Ford's remains pretty much identical to what it was at the end of the opening day.
“It's been a very good day” said Petter. “I was a bit disappointed this morning, but this afternoon made up for that. I didn't really get to find the balance at first, but it got a lot better this afternoon. It feels good to have the same speed as the others, and knowing that I'm able to keep up with them. It's a long day to go tomorrow, and I will push as much as possible!”
Behind, Matthew Wilson has moved up to fourth for the M-Sport Stobart Ford team, having gained a place when his team-mate, Henning Solberg had to stop in SS15 due to electrical issues. Henning should be able to re-start tomorrow. Henning's misfortune has put Wilson on course for his best result of the season, although admittedly the Englishman is way off third, almost 5 minutes back.
“It's been a good day for us but it's a shame about Henning - for sure, it's not the way I like to move up the leaderboard,” said Wilson. “I feel like we're stuck in a no man's land at the moment – we're too far behind Petter to catch him and we're over three minutes up on Khalid. We didn't want to push too much on the last few stages today as there was a lot of loose gravel and it wasn't worth risking our position. I think it's going to feel like a long day tomorrow – we just need to do the sensible thing and find the right balance but not pushing too hard to risk losing our fourth place.”
“I am disappointed to retire but this is how it is sometimes,” Henning added. “I was driving at my own speed this morning and trying to control Matthew behind which was going fine. The car was going better and better and I was feeling more confident to push. Then 3 km before the end of Stage 15 our engine cut out and we couldn't get the car restarted. I think it's an electrical problem but we won't know exactly what until the car is properly looked at in service tonight. It should be fine to restart tomorrow and we will be pushing to see how far we can get back up the leader board – there are only six tests left but this includes two 30 km stages so we will try to catch up as much as we can.”
Khalid Al-Qassimi rounds out the top-five in another Fiesta RS WRC, nominated to score points for Team Abu Dhabi - and 3.3 minutes further adrift: “It's fantastic to be in this position,” said Al-Qassimi. “I felt that I wanted to push harder but I had a couple of near misses so I was nervous to attack harder. The roads were enjoyable and I tried hard to keep my driving neat and tidy.”
Of the other WRC drivers, all those that went out on Friday re-started this morning under the SupeRally. Sebastien Ogier moved up from 16th to 11th in his Citroen DS3 WRC, while team-mate Sebastien Loeb has gone from 23rd to 16th. Evgeny Novikov, Peter van Merksteijn Jr, Ken Block and Daniel Oliviera have also made progress and now hold 10th, 15th, 20th and 22nd respectively. Novikov is currently on course for the final WRC drivers' point.
“Everything is good for the moment and I have not been pushing to the maximum,” said Novikov. “We had a spin 500 m from the end of Stage 14 and lost about ten seconds but everything was much better this afternoon as I felt we had a lot more grip on the roads. My plan was to make to the end of the stages and to improve on each stage. We had a small moment on Stage 17 when we clipped a banking but we kept the car on the road. Tomorrow I will stick to the same plan and aim to finish all the stages with no problems.”
In the Production WRC category, Hayden Paddon continues to lead in his Subaru, although he has had a dramatic day. A blown turbo charger this morning whipped out his 1 minute 30 second lead and dropped him to second going into the mid-day halt, 49.6 seconds off Michal Kosciuszko.
Paddon charged back this afternoon though and after the Coffs coast super specials, he has a 2.9 second lead. Paddon and Kosciuszko are also both currently on course for 'senior' WRC points and are sixth and seventh on the overall leaderboard.
Fellow PWRC runners, Oleksandr Saliuk and Benito Guerra – third and fourth respectively in the class – are also in the top ten, in eighth and ninth, the latter 25.8 seconds up on Novikov in tenth.
The action now concludes on Sunday and the second leg heads north to Clarence Valley shire and is the shortest of the weekend. After a 06.00 start in Coffs Harbour, competitors tackle two identical loops of three stages covering 98.82km. At 30.00km, the middle test of the loop is the longest of the rally. The final 4.58km Power Stage, which will be broadcast live on TV, offers bonus points to the fastest three cars. The finish in Coffs Harbour is at 17.03 [all times local].
Rally Australia: Overall standings after Stage 20 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC 2hours 43mins 47.4secs M
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 22.7secs M
3. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 59.5secs M
4. Matthew Wilson M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 53.7secs M
5. Khalid Al-Qassimi Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +09mins 24.4secs M
6. Hayden Paddon Subaru Impreza WRX STi +13mins 29.2secs P
7. Michal Kosciuszko Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +13mins 32.1secs P
8. Oleksandr Saliuk Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +15mins 33.1secs P
9. Benito Guerra Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +16mins 35.0secs P
10. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +17mins 00.8secs M
11. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +19mins 34.3secs M
12. Valeriy Gorban Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +22mins 59.8secs P
13. Henning Solberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +28mins 07.3secs
15. Peter van Merksteijn Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC +29mins 11.7secs M
16. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +29mins 38.9secs M
20. Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +39mins 03.8secs M
22. Daniel Oliviera Brazil WRT MINI John Cooper Works +43mins 3383secs M
PWRC standings after Stage 20 (Top 3):
1. Hayden Paddon Subaru Impreza WRX STi 2hours 57mins 16.6secs P
2. Michal Kosciuszko Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +00mins 02.9secs P
3. Oleksandr Saliuk Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +02mins 03.9secs P
SS3. Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Went off the road M*
SS4. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC Rolled M*
SS6. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC Hit a tree M*
SS6. Daniel Oliviera Brazil WRT MINI John Cooper Works Radiator M*
SS7. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC Hit a rock M*
SS7. Peter van Merksteijn Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC Punctures M*
SS15. Henning Solberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC Electrical problem
* denotes re-started under SupeRally
all times unofficial