Ford World Rally Team's Jari-Matti Latvala has extended his advantage on Wales Rally GB this afternoon.
Latvala, who moved to the fore this morning with a storming time in Myherin 1, began the repeat loop with a 3.3 second cushion over Sebastien Loeb. The Finn immediately stretched that in Dyfnant 2 though, completing the test 2 seconds up on his French rival. Latvala then set the pace again in SS5, and with Loeb struggling and slipping down to third overall, he went into the final test 11.8 seconds ahead. Jari-Matti wasn't finished however, and another stage win in SS6 – his fourth on the trot – has left him 12.1 seconds out front as competitors head back to Cardiff for service B.
“It was a tough day but I couldn't be happier than I am tonight,” said Latvala. “The roads were wet and muddy but slippery roads suit me. The team has worked hard since the last gravel rally to improve the balance of the suspension at the rear of the car and our efforts paid off today.”
“We can't relax yet though because our rivals will attack. Tomorrow's stages were drier on the recce so unless it rains tonight, conditions should be better, and with a lower start order that will help,” he added.
Petter Solberg meanwhile has also enjoyed a very good day in the other works Ford Fiesta RS WRC car, and he won the first two stages to take the early lead. Although he slipped to third in SS3, he fought back on the afternoon loop, moving ahead of Loeb and up into second in SS5. Petter now lies 9.2 seconds up on the Frenchman.
“After winning the first two stages I decided to ease the pace a little for the third test, which I didn't drive last year. I measured my speed on the split times of Sebastien Loeb ahead, but what I didn't realise was that Jari-Matti was driving much faster behind! It's a great start but if we want to keep first and second places then we have to keep pushing because we won't get it for free,” Solberg said.
Loeb in contrast hasn't really been able to match the Fords, and even remarked after SS5 that it was 'impossible to fight them'. He has no doubt got one eye on the title though, and will be eager to score strongly here so as he puts himself in a position to clinch his ninth drivers' title next month in France – his home event. He will also want to do well to help Citroen try and sow up the manufacturers'.
“There was even less grip than on the first run and these are clearly not the conditions in which we are most comfortable. Having said that, I certainly wasn't looking to push beyond the limits, because first and foremost, we want to score points for the World Championships,” Loeb confirmed. “The fact we had two spare wheels with us all day also cost us a few seconds. It wasn't really necessary, because we didn't have as much tyre wear as we had expected.”
Behind, Mads Ostberg continues to impress and is fourth in his Adapta WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC, 11.3 seconds off Loeb and 21.2 seconds up on Mikko Hirvonen in the second works Citroen DS3 WRC car.
“I think this afternoon was quite good to be honest. We didn't manage to keep up the pace with Jari-Matti and Petter which was what we wanted, but we continued to take time from Mikko,” Ostberg commented. “I think we did quite a good job on SS6. We knew from the first pass that we had some challenges with the pacenotes there and I tried to push really hard to lose as little time as possible. We had some interesting moments, but we got through OK with no dints on the car! I am quite pleased with fourth position and we are not too far off the guys in front, so I am for sure looking forward to tomorrow now.”