Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Jari-Matti Latvala claimed his first victory on asphalt today when he won Rallye du Var in France in his Fiesta RS WRC car.
Based in the mountains near the picturesque town of Saint-Maxime, close to Saint Tropez on the Côte d'Azur, the Rallye du Var was the final round of the all-asphalt French Rally Championship. It provided Ford's world championship squad with an ideal testing opportunity as part of its scheduled development programme with the Fiesta RS WRC, as the stages are similar to those that make up the January's Rallye Monte Carlo, the opening round of the 2012 World Rally Championship.
Latvala set the pace on three of Friday's four speed tests to establish an early lead. The 26-year-old, winner of the final round of the 2011 WRC in Britain earlier this month, extended his advantage during Saturday's second leg over Stéphane Sarrazin, a previous Rallye du Var winner, to end the day with a commanding cushion. He took no risks in today's final leg to finish 49.1sec clear.
“It's my first-ever victory on asphalt, so that's a good feeling,” said the Crash.net
columnist, after delivering Ford its first win on the event since 1995. “The rally was more difficult than I expected. The morning stages in the mountains were partly damp, but partly dry. I had to read the road closely and judge the grip levels, because they were constantly changing.
“Some stages were abrasive and demanding, and when the sun shone there were many shadows. There was gravel and water on the road in the same place at times, which made it extremely slippery, and then on the last day we had fog as well. All that was missing was snow and ice!”
Meanwhile, team-mate Ott Tanak, making his asphalt debut in a Fiesta RS WRC and his debut with the Ford Abu Dhabi WRT, set competitive times throughout, lying third at the end of day one, just 20.4sec adrift of Latvala. However, damage to his right-front wheel on stage five and a puncture 8km from the end of stage eight cost the Estonian almost 90sec and left him fifth last night.
Undeterred, he mounted a stirring final day fightback to overturn a 35sec deficit to third place. He set a trio of top three times and stunned his rivals by winning the treacherous 32.11km stage 11 by almost seven seconds.
“The main goal was to gain experience,” said Tanak. “Being my first time here, it was a difficult rally, one of the toughest I've driven. There were many different types of road, from smooth to rough, and slow to fast. We made a few mistakes on Friday and Saturday and weren't very lucky, but on the last day we perfected the car set-up and I had a good feeling. I really enjoyed the final stages.”
“The Rallye du Var was a valuable testing exercise and the team gathered plenty of data,” summarised Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson. “It was a superb effort from Jari-Matti and another good confidence boost for him on asphalt. In his first event in the Fiesta RS WRC on asphalt, Ott also drove brilliantly, and his final day performance was fantastic."
Ford has yet to confirm its WRC programme for 2012, but an announcement is expected in the next few weeks.