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Wales - day 2: Latvala still on course for win

6 December 2008

BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala managed to hold on to the lead following day two of the Wales Rally GB on Saturday, the final round in the 2008 World Rally Championship.

The Finn, who had grabbed P1 on Friday afternoon and who began the second leg with a 12.9 second cushion, initially saw his advantage cut back to just 0.8 seconds, when he was only sixth fastest through SS9. Jari-Matti lost out running first on the road in the 30.68 km Resolfen 1 test and while conditions were much improved compared to Friday, there was still plenty of ice around.

Latvala struck back though in the next test, SS10, and another stage win allowed him take the margin back up to 10 seconds. In the end he headed into the mid-day halt in Swansea 8.9 seconds up on Sebastien Loeb.

On the repeat loop in the afternoon the youngster saw his lead trimmed to 8.4 seconds in SS12 and then just 2.4 seconds in SS13, when he had quite a big scare on a downhill section 1.5 kilometres in.

"It was under braking and we hit sheet ice," Latvala explained following Halfway 2. "I couldn't do anything and we hit the barrier on my side of the car. Luckily we bounced back into the road so we didn't lose too much time. It's difficult to find the balance between attacking and staying on the road."

Latvala though did seemingly find the balance in SS14 and following the final proper test - and another stage win, his fifth of the event - he took a 10.8 lead in the short Cardiff SSS. He finally finished day 2 with a 7.3 second margin and he will be determined to try and hang onto that place on Sunday and win what will be only his second ever WRC event.

"I don't want to be in front tomorrow morning. The best place to be is behind somebody else," Latvala added, "but if I am first out there I just have to do my very, very best."

Sebastien Loeb meanwhile is still second and while he did briefly drop behind his team-mate, Dani Sordo this morning, he soon re-took the place. Although he kept Latvala honest - and was in the top three in five of the days six 'proper' stages - he conceded that he was wary of pushing too much, especially as Citroen has still to wrap up the manufacturers' championship.

With Seb currently second though and Dani Sordo now running third in the sister C4 WRC, it is definitely looking good for the French marque, which began the weekend with an 11-point lead.

"We are too far behind [Jari-Matti] at the moment. I had a good drive but I was too cautious on the ice and lost a little time," Seb admitted post-SS14.

Sordo in contrast was happier and was quickest in two of the three stages this morning to haul his C4 WRC up from sixth to third. Dani now lies 27.9 seconds off his team-mate and a similar amount up on Petter Solberg, who is fourth.

"I am very happy now," said the Spaniard, "but the rally is not over yet. I need to concentrate on getting points for the championship."

Petter upped his pace on the repeat tests this afternoon and was third fastest in SS12 and SS14. He is still though some way off third and knows he is unlikely to get a podium: "It's very slippery. I can't get the car to pull properly. I will just keep pushing however and hope the guys ahead hit trouble," said 'Hollywood'.

Further down the order, Per-Gunnar Andersson ended proceedings in fifth, having slipped back from third overnight. The Swede didn't have the speed to hang onto his rostrum finish, but is still set to get good points for himself and the Suzuki World Rally Team.

"I wasn't able to match the performance I put in yesterday," P-G reflected. "But the car is fantastic and has been very reliable today."

Andersson's team-mate, Toni Gardemeister also finds himself in the points tonight - in eighth - having gained a place in SS14, when Mads Ostberg went off the road and got stuck in a ditch. Ostberg had been in fourth.

Henning Solberg and Francois Duval are sandwiched between the two Suzuki SX4 WRCs, in sixth and seventh, both running under the Stobart banner, although the former is not nominated to score manufacturer points.

"We had better pace today and felt much better with the car. I am trying to reach the top five so I am pushing hard to get there," said Henning, who is less than 4 seconds off Andersson.

Mikko Hirvonen and Britain's Matthew Wilson round out the top ten, the former having put in a real push after losing loads of time on day 1 with that costly roll in SS5. Mikko set top five-times in every single stage - including winning SS12, when he was just over 15 seconds faster than anyone else. As such he went from 29th overnight to 13th post-SS11 and then gained another four places this afternoon on the repeat loop.

Barry Clark lies just outside the top ten in P11, followed by P-WRC runners Patrick Flodin, Patrik Sandell and Andreas Aigner.

Flodin enjoys a 20.8 second lead in the Production class, while Aigner is a further 25 seconds further back in third. Overnight leader Guy Wilks is now fourth - almost two minutes off P1, having lost time with a turbo problem in the morning and a driveshaft failure this afternoon.

Of the rest, Valentino Rossi is just behind the top three P-WRC men and 15th overall in his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC. The MotoGP star had begun the day in 24th and so he made some progress, despite an off this afternoon.

"It is so slippery and there was a lot of ice in SS14," said Rossi. "We went too fast into a corner and overshot it which smashed the front of the car and cracked the windscreen. But it is OK."

In terms of retirements, Sebastien Ogier and Mads Ostberg were the two big casualties on Saturday. Ostberg, as mentioned, went out in SS14, when he went into a ditch, while Ogier - who was making his debut in a WRC car on this event - rolled in SS9, the very first test of the day.

It is not yet known if they will be able to re-start on Sunday under the SupeRally format or if they will join Chris Atkinson as a permanent retiree. Atkinson of course crashed out heavily on Friday in SS7.

The 2008 Wales Rally GB now comes to a close on Sunday, with two stages - Rheola and Port Talbot on the bill. Both will be run twice with SS16, the first run through the 27.96 km Rheola test, starting at 07.55 hours. In total drivers face 96.10 competitive kilometres before the finish back in Cardiff at around 14.56 hours [all times local].


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