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Sardinia – day 1: Latvala tops 'unwanted' 1-2

22 May 2009

Jari-Matti Latvala has secured a comfortable lead following the opening opening day of action on Rally d'Italia Sardinia, although team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was left disappointed after losing out in the tactical battle that developed on the final stage of the day.

Benefitting from a better road position for the first six stages of the event, Latvala emerged as the man to beat on day one as took victory on three of the first five stages to take a lead of just under 20 seconds into the final stage of the day.

That stage was where tactics were expected to come to the fore, with neither Hirvonen or Sebastien Loeb keen to be left to sweep the road on the second day – which features another six stages and two runs through the longest test of the event.

Both Loeb and Hirvonen, who had gone into the stage in second and third, slowed on the final stage but Loeb was stationary for longer and dropped behind Hirvonen into third place – meaning the two Fords will be sweeping the road for him on Saturday morning.

“I seriously messed up - I couldn't have got it any more wrong,” Hirvonen said at the end of the sixth stage. “This is a completely my fault - I can't believe Sebastien slowed so much. I made a massive mistake.”

With Latvala ahead, Hirvonen will at least benefit from not running first on the road, with the younger of the two Finns starting the second day with an advantage of just under 40 seconds over his team-mate. Hirvonen in turn is three seconds ahead of Loeb.

The tactical driving from the championship protagonists has allowed Petter Solberg to close to within five seconds of a place on the podium at the wheel of his updated Citroen Xsara after a solid day, although he lost time on the opening stage of the morning due to an overheating issue on the car which he believed had cost him the chance to start the event with a stage win.

Behind Solberg, young Russian driver Evgeny Novikov holds a solid fifth place after day long battle with Citroen Junior Team partner Sebastien Ogier, although Ogier was forced out on the penultimate stage of the day with a damper problem – which promoted Henning Solberg into the top six.

Mads Ostberg isn't far behind in seventh place but is likely to come under pressure from Dani Sordi on day two after the Citroen man endured a trouble opening to the event. Having incurred a 30 second penalty for arriving late at the start of the opening stage of the morning – which dropped him behind Hirvonen on the road – the Spaniard then picked up another 30 seconds of penalties for leaving the mid-day service late after the team worked to repair suspension damage he sustained after hitting a rock on SS3.

Matthew Wilson lies ninth after losing time during the morning with hydraulic issues, while Khalid Al Qassimi rounds out the top ten.

A tight battle in the Production World Rally Championship saw Patrick Flodin end the day on top, but only after he was able to jump up from third on the final stage of the day. The Subaru man heads into day two less than a second clear of the S2000 Skoda of Patrik Sandell, while Nasser Al-Attiyah – who had led going into stage six – is only six seconds away from the lead. Armindo Araujo also remains well in contention and is only ten seconds further back in fourth.

The battle amongst the Junior World Rally Championship runners is also shaping up well after six stages, with Alessandro Bettega ending the opening day with a lead of 15.7 seconds over championship leader Michal Kosciuszko.

However, the man to watch is the man who sits third overnight, with Martin Prokop having produced an inspired display at the wheel of his Citroen C2 to sit little more than 20 seconds off the lead.

That came despite incurring 90 seconds of penalties for being nine minutes late into the mid-day service after running into electrical issues following the final stage of the morning.


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