Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala has taken the lead on Wales Rally GB, winning all three stages on the repeat loop to build a 6.1 second advantage.
Latvala began the day just 1.1 seconds behind Sebastien Loeb, however, on the first test this morning he overshot a turn and stalled the engine, losing nine seconds. Although there was then pretty much nothing between the two in SS13 and SS14, Latvala returned to the mid-day service 7.3 seconds adrift and seemingly on the back-foot
In the afternoon though he put in a charge and on the second-run through Hafren was 8.6 seconds up on the Frenchman to move into the lead.
The Finn was then quickest again in SS16 and SS17, stretching his cushion by 0.2 seconds in Sweet Lamb 2 and then by 4.6 seconds in Myherin 2. He now looks well placed to finally claim his first victory of the season.
“I was angry with myself this morning,” said the Crash.net
columnist. “The first stage started well and I was five seconds up on Loeb, but when I saw the split time I pushed too hard. In a really muddy section I went into a medium left corner too fast and couldn't turn into the following tight left. I realised I wasn't going to stop so I went down the access road and unfortunately stalled the engine.
“It's been 18 months since I last won, but there's a fire inside me and I feel hungry for victory. I must ensure I have the right set-up on the car but I have absolute confidence I will. Tomorrow's stages are good, but they're tricky and I need to be prepared for that. The plan is to be fast, flat-out and tidy.”
Loeb meanwhile conceded that the Finn had just been quicker, although he hasn't by any means given up the fight. Indeed, having clinched his eighth WRC drivers' title yesterday, when Mikko Hirvonen retired, he has no reason not to push.
“I think I drove pretty well. Jari-Matti was just that little bit quicker this afternoon. There's no other explanation as I don't reckon the starting order had any influence on the performances,” said the Citroen #1. “With a six-second gap everything's still up for grabs though. If I feel confident tomorrow, I'll keep on pushing to try and win this rally.”
Mads Ostberg is next up and currently on course for the final place on the podium, now over 2 minutes off the fight for the win and over 2 minutes up on his M-Sport Stobart Ford team-mate, Henning Solberg in fourth. He had some engine problems this afternoon however, and will now have to nurse his Fiesta RS WRC through the final day.