11 February 2012
Latvala ekes out lead in Sweden
Jari-Matti Latvala heads into service E with his advantage over Mikko Hirvonen up from 16.8 seconds to 18.6 seconds; Petter Solberg remains third.
Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala remains out front on Rally Sweden and following the opening loop this morning the Finn has stretched his lead slightly.
Latvala began the second leg with a 16.8 second advantage over his former team-mate Mikko Hirvonen, but after winning two of the four stages now heads back to Hagfors for the 30 minute mid-day service with the gap up to 18.6 seconds.
“It's a big battle with Mikko,” said Latvala. “The pressure is on, but I like it this way. It's good to lead now, but I have to keep this position to the end of the rally. That's what matters. There's a bit of a mental game between us before the stages. Of course we talk to each other, but it's more serious now than when we were team-mates. It wasn't comfortable in the narrow sections because the ruts don't have much snow in them. If I tried to move out of the ruts then the car started to slide.”
Hirvonen meanwhile continues to set good times in his Citroen DS3 WRC car and was second quickest in SS11 and SS12 and fastest in SS13. The Finn was happy with his morning, although not so pleased to be only ninth in SS14.
“Our times are more or less the same. I take a second off him on one stage, and then he takes it back on the next, so the gap remains consistent,” Hirvonen remarked. “I don't think I can push much harder, I am driving very close to the limit. This afternoon, I'll be careful to look after my tyres. That could be a decisive point, like it was yesterday.”
Petter Solberg is next up and holds third, although the Norwegian has slipped further behind Mikko, with the margin between them increasing from just 1.8 seconds last night to 21.3 seconds going into service. 'Hollywood' had no major problems, but couldn't match Hirvonen's pace. He also stalled at the start of SS12, which did little to help his cause.
“It was a good morning, but not perfect,” Solberg stated. “I need to push hard this afternoon to put pressure on Mikko and try to close on him. I've made a few small adjustments in service for the afternoon. It was tricky in the snow and because conditions were difficult, I drove too cautiously.”
Behind Mads Ostberg is fourth in his Adapta WRT-run Ford Fiesta RS WRC car and he lies just 7.1 seconds off Solberg.
“There have not been any big issues for us this morning," said Ostberg. "I think it is all going quite well. We suffered a problem with a tyre before we got to the first stage – we saw it in tyre marking as we went out of service so we had no option but to change it. We were running a used tyre on the left-hand rear so that was a little bit tricky but we used it all the way through this morning and still tried to push and do a good run so it's all been okay.
“We'll try now to make some changes to the car to get it better for the second pass and hopefully that will be the right thing because we need to keep up with Petter's [Solberg] speed on the second pass. We are catching Petter and I am happy with that, but we need to catch more.”
M-Sport Ford WRT man Evgeny Novikov rounds out the top-five, albeit almost a minute adrift of P4.
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