Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala set the pace today in the qualifying stage for this weekend's Rally New Zealand.

Latvala completed the 5.06 kilometre Inland Road test in 2 minutes 31.86 seconds, putting him 0.37 seconds up on his former team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen. Latvala will now get first choice of start position for the opening day.

"I had a very good feeling. We did a little modification to the rear diff and I was more comfortable with the car, we were using hard tyres in the morning so the times were not so good but we used the softs now," Latvala remarked.

Hirvonen added: "I made one small mistake but overall I was really struggling on the shakedown to find a good setup and rhythm, but that [the qualifying stage] was awesome. The last couple of corners were just perfect. I really enjoyed it."

Petter Solberg meanwhile was third, 0.17 seconds off Hirvonen, followed by Sebastien Loeb and Thierry Neuville, the latter standing in for Nasser Al-Attiyah and competing under the Qatar WRT banner.

"I tried to get the feeling; we haven't driven since Greece but the feeling is still good. No problem, maybe a small mistake but Mikko did a very good time," Solberg said.

Behind, Ott Tanak took sixth for the M-Sport Ford WRT, with Dani Sordo, Jari Ketomaa, Evgeny Novikov and Manfred Stohl rounding out the top ten.

Drivers will now select their start positions in a few hours time. Rally New Zealand then begins proper on Friday, with SS1, the 11.18 kilometre Te Hutewai 1 test, starting at 08.28 hours [local time].

Rally New Zealand: Qualifying stage:

1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC 2mins 31.86secs M
2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +0.37secs M
3. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +0.54secs M
4. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +0.89secs M
5. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +1.09secs M
6. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +1.27secs M
7. Dani Sordo Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC +1.37secs
8. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2.08s
9. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +2.32s M
10. Manfred Stohl Brazil WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +5.79s M
11. Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +5.91s
12. Armindo Araujo WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +6.41s
13. Paulo Nobre WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +19.90secs

all times unofficial


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