Sweden - day 3: Latvala re-writes record books
10 February 2008
BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala became the youngest driver to ever win a WRC event on Sunday, when he claimed the honours on the Uddeholm Swedish Rally.
Latvala stamped his authority on proceedings pretty much from the off, seizing the lead in the first 'proper' stage and finishing the opening loop 23 seconds ahead of his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen, having made the most of his more favourable position in the running order.
The 22-year-old then stretched his advantage in the afternoon, despite the fact the conditions were more even, and he finished the opening leg with a 48.2 second cushion, having won all six forest stages.
Jari maintained that lead on days 2 and 3 to claim the victory on the only winter round in the schedule, although with temperatures so mild, there was little snow and ice. Indeed slush and water often filled the rutted gravel roads as cars carved through the soft surface and the organisers had to cancel two speed tests due to the poor conditions.
All of that though was no concern to Latvala and he comfortably took his debut win by just under a minute. In doing so he eclipses the record held by the late Henri Toivonen, who won the RAC Rally in Britain in 1980 when he was 24-years-old.
"Henri Toivonen is a big hero of mine and in my dreams I wanted to beat his record, so this means so much to me," said Latvala.
"I couldn't have dreamed I could win on only my second event in a works team, especially after such a disappointing start to the year in Monte Carlo last month. I can't really find the words to describe my feelings. I never thought I would win this weekend."
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile had to settle for the runners-up spot in sister car and while he was disappointed not to be able to challenge for the win, the result puts him top in the race for the drivers' title, a position he has never held before.
"I came here to win but Jari-Matti made it clear on Friday that he was the man of the rally so I had to settle for second. I was frustrated I couldn't find a rhythm on Friday but then I eased my pace because I wanted to make sure of the points," he explained.
His second place and Jari's first also gave the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT the maximum haul possible and that lifts the M-Sport-run outfit into P1 in the manufacturers', with 26 points, 11 more than the Citroen Total WRT, which drops fourth.
Gigi Galli took the final spot on the podium for the Stobart Ford squad, albeit more than a minute further back. The Italian was in fine form throughout and considering this is only his second outing with the Focus it was especially impressive.
Subaru's Petter Solberg was next up in fourth, while Andreas Mikkelsen came fifth in his privately entered Ford Focus, gaining a spot in the penultimate stage when Matthew Wilson had throttle problems. The Englishman, who had been 7.9 seconds in front, managed to complete SS19, but didn't get much further and retired from the event en-route to SS20.
Citroen #2 Daniel Sordo rounded out the top six and considering he started on the back-foot following an engine change, he couldn't really have hoped for more. Indeed without that 5 minute penalty he would have finished third, fractionally ahead of Galli.
Suzuki's Toni Gardemeister brought his SX4 WRC car home in seventh with Juho Hanninen eighth in his Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.
Hanninen incidentally also took the honours in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship category, finishing over a minute up on Jari Ketomaa, who was second in class and tenth overall.
Of the other 'works' drivers, Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg and Subaru's Chris Atkinson both finished - and picked up the final few manufacturers' points, coming home in 13th and 21st respectively. Henning and Chris had problems earlier in the event that stopped them finishing higher.
Atkinson lost 15 minutes on day 1 with an off, while Henning crashed out on Saturday while in contention for a podium finish. The Norwegian re-started under the SupeRally on Sunday and won all five stages, but that was little consolation.
In terms of retirees, there were three big casualties, and in addition to Wilson - mentioned earlier - Citroen's Sebastien Loeb and Suzuki's Per-Gunnar Andersson were also unable to complete the event.
P-G went out on Friday with an engine problem, while Loeb rolled his C4 WRC in SS4. Although the Frenchman rejoined the fold on Saturday - and won two stages, he retired for good after the mid-day service as his engine had started to show signs of 'weakness', no doubt as a result of the incident on day 1.
The WRC now heads to Mexico for the first gravel event of the year and the first of three consecutive events outside of Europe. The Leon-based round runs from February 28 to March 2.