Sweden - day 2: Latvala homes in on debut win
9 February 2008
BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala stands on the verge of taking his maiden win in the FIA World Rally Championship following day two of the Uddeholm Swedish Rally.
Latvala began the second leg 48.2 seconds up on his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen and the 22-year-old inched further ahead in SS9 and SS10 to take his cushion to just over a minute.
Although he conceded 8.2 seconds to Mikko in SS11 and had a bit of a scare near the start of Vargasen, when he hit a stone with the front right wheel, he still returned to the mid-day halt at Hagfors comfortably in front and the two were split by 53.9 seconds.
The afternoon loop was somewhat shorter than planned after the second run through Horssjon - SS12 - was cancelled due to the mild weather.
The stages today have been at a lower altitude than those run on Friday and with temperatures several degrees above freezing, the round bore more resemblance at times to a gravel event, only with competitors forced to run on Pirelli's studded ice tyres due to the regulations.
As such organisers opted to cancel SS12 to prevent further damage to the stage surface and for safety reasons.
SS13 and SS14 however had no impact on Latvala's position at the top of the order and while he reported a 'big moment' at the end of Hagfors 2, most drivers struggled at the finish there as there was a section of asphalt.
In the end, Latvala completed the leg 49.8 seconds in front, virtually the same 'cushion' he started the day with.
Hirvonen meanwhile, who began the leg in a three-way scrap for P2, is now well on course to take the runners-up spot, 45 seconds up on Gigi Galli. Mikko had hoped to close up on Latvala on day 2, but in the end there was little to choose between them.
Galli for his part is now almost guaranteed the final spot on the podium, following the demise of his Stobart Ford team-mate, Henning Solberg.
Henning dropped to fourth in the first test of the day when he picked up a puncture. The Norwegian then put himself right out of contention in SS11 when he ran into a safety barrier and retired. It is not yet known if he will be able to re-start on Sunday under the SupeRally.
Henning's misfortune also benefited his brother, Petter and 'Hollywood' now lies in fourth, albeit a good minute off Galli.
Further down the order, Matthew Wilson completes the top five, potentially in line to open his account for the year. Matt reported no major problems and said he had settled into a comfortable pace in the 'third' Stobart Ford entry.
Fellow Ford runner Andreas Mikkelsen trails Wilson in sixth, just 10.5 seconds adrift, while Dani Sordo is now seventh. Dani won two stages today en-route to hauling himself up the order having started with a 5 minute penalty as a result of an engine change.
Toni Gardemeister is on course to pick up the final drivers' point, despite a problem in the final stage this morning, when he hit a snowbank and lost over 3.5 minutes.
In the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship category Juho Hanninen now leads, over a minute up on Jari Ketomaa.
Hanninen inherited the lead in the final stage of the day when Patrik Sandell spun and lost quite a bit of time, dropping to fourth in the PWRC and twelfth overall.
Martin Prokop currently holds the final place on the PWRC podium, 16.4 seconds in front of Sandell.
Of the rest, Chris Atkinson is still running in the #2 SWRT entered Impreza WRC, although he is right out of contention after a spin in SS3 on Friday cost him around 15 minutes.
In terms of retirees, Sebastien Loeb was the biggest name to go out on Saturday. The Frenchman re-started under the SupeRally this morning, after his off in SS4, but he was forced out again following the mid-day service due to engine problems.
The event now concludes on Sunday, with three stages on the bill, each to be run twice. Around 100 competitive kilometres lay in wait, with SS15, the 16.25 kilometre-run through Ullen, getting underway at 08.08 hours local time.