Jari-Matti Latvala put a difficult start to the 2013 WRC season firmly behind him by taking victory on the Acropolis Rally of Greece this weekend, his maiden triumph with Volkswagen Motorsport.
Latvala was boosted by two third places on the previous events in Portugal and Argentina, and with three of his main rivals falling by the wayside early on in Greece - including his team-mate and runaway championship leader, Sebastien Ogier - the Finn duly took advantage, eventually powering his way home 1 minute 50 seconds up on Dani Sordo.
Latvala had, however, made an inauspicious start to the sixth round in the championship, and in qualifying was a lowly ninth.
Despite that though, the Finn concluded the first leg on Friday in third place overall, just 8.8 seconds behind Sordo, while Evgeny Novikov was the surprise leader, with a 30.3 second advantage.
Ogier meanwhile, as mentioned, was already out of the fight, after a fuel pressure problem sidelined the Frenchman in SS1. Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Osberg also lost time in Kineta-Pissia, the former dropping almost six minutes with a steering problem, while the latter lost a wheel and conceded over three minutes.
The drama continued on Saturday too, with Novikov the next high profile casualty, when he hit a rock in SS4 – the second test of the leg – and broke a wheel, something that sent the Russian plummeting down the leaderboard. Latvala then assumed the lead and put in charge to go into the mid-day halt with an 18.7 second advantage, a margin he more than tripled on the repeat loop.
With over a minute in hand, Latvala could afford to take it fairly cautiously on Sunday and so he did en-route
to his eighth WRC career win. The result vaults him up to second in the Drivers' Championship, 52 points behind Ogier.
“Incredible!” said Latvala. “It feels amazing, it's been a tough start to the season, but it is very nice to win here. It's ten years since I first came here, it's taken a long time to win. It is a very important result for me.”
Sordo meanwhile claimed the runners-up spot and while he never looked like challenging Latvala for the victory, it was still a very measured and intelligent drive from the Spaniard. Crucially it keeps Citroen very much in the hunt for the Manufacturers' title too, with VW increasing its lead by only 4 points, from 14 to 18.
“It's been a good weekend and we are happy we didn't break anything. We scored points and we built up our confidence. In the previous rallies we tried to win and made mistakes, but now we made less. The end was good but Jari-Matti was too hard to beat.”
Thierry Neuville was next up and completed the podium, running in third place from SS4 onwards, and finishing 24.1 seconds off P2: “For second time I am very happy this year,” said the Qatar World Rally Team driver. “We did our job following a good strategy. Today we didn't push but the car was competitive and everything went okay. I prefer tarmac events but this rally was very nice.”
Further back, Volkwagen 'third' driver Andreas Mikkelsen enjoyed a good final day scrap with Nasser Al-Attiyah, re-taking fourth place in SS12 and eventually finishing 17.5 seconds ahead of the Qatari.
“I would like to say many thanks to the mechanics. This is my best ever [WRC] result and I'm really excited,” Mikkelsen stated. “I feel great in the team. I'm improving all the time and can't wait to see what we can do in Sardinia.”
“It's a good feeling to be in the top five for the third [WRC] rally [in a row],” added Al-Attiyah. “If we go like this in the future, we are hoping for a podium. The team worked very well.”
Behind, Ostberg recovered from his dramas in the very first test and took sixth, ahead of Martin Prokop and Mikko Hirvonen: “I am very happy to be at the end,” said Ostberg, “but everything that possibly could go wrong went wrong [on this event]. Today it was better - and that is positive. We have the speed to fight at the top and it was promising today. I am quite happy with the speed.”
Hirvonen was similarly disappointed: “What a weekend! I am not happy with the result. I am only happy that all this is over. We had lots of bad luck. I will try to concentrate on the next event.”
Novikov and Ogier rounded out the top ten. Ogier had been down in 23rd after having to retire on the opening day. However he re-started under the Rally 2 rules on Saturday and battled his way back to tenth. He also took the Power Stage win, to clinch the maximum three bonus points.
“We expected better this weekend,” Ogier admitted. “We had bad luck, but we did our best. We were first on the road and adapted the set up because it was very slippery.”
In WRC2, Robert Kubica led from start to finish in his Citroen DS3 RRC, winning nine of the first ten stages, and eventually taking the class victory by over a minute. Yuriy Protasov was second, with Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari third.
As for the JWRC, Jose Suarez took maximum points, 1 minute 4.2 seconds up on Pontus Tidemand. Sander Parn was third.
Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT driver Khalid Al-Qassimi was the sole 'works' retirement, going out on Saturday, when he went off the road in SS8.
The WRC now heads to Sardinia in a few weeks time, with Rally d'Italia Sardgena running from June 20-23.
To view the result for the 2013 Acropolis Rally of Greece - CLICK HERE