5 December 2008
Wales - day 1: Latvala shows way.
Jari-Matti Latvala sits at the top of the Wales Rally GB leader-board following the opening leg on Friday, which was extremely challenging due to the treacherous road conditions.
Originally competitors had been set to face almost 124 competitive kilometres today, but last night organisers took the decision to slash that by more than 50 per cent due to 'adverse weather' and so while runners were still due to take in Hafren, Sweet Lamb and Myherin, all three tests were cut in length.
This morning though there was more bad news when Hafren 1 was judged to be too icy and dangerous by the FIA's safety delegate. Sweet Lamb thus actually kicked off proceedings and initially Jari-Matti opted to play it cautiously and he was only ninth through that 4.28 km test.
However, the fastest time in Myherin - the longest test of the day - saw him haul himself up to third, 3.9 seconds off Sebastien Ogier, who remarkably led even though this was his debut outing in a WRC car.
On the second loop Jari again lost a bit of time in Sweet Lamb - Hafren was again axed - but with another quickest time in Myherin 2 he managed to seize the lead and heading into the two runs through Walters Arena enjoyed an 11.4 cushion.
In the end he finished the day with a 12.9 second advantage and potentially is on course for his second WRC win.
While he admitted he had two 'close escapes' in SS3, a number of the runners had moments in the icy conditions, including Latvala's team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen - who lost over 3.5 minutes with a roll in SS5.
"Conditions were extreme with heavy rain, snow, ice, mud and water – but I'm happy!" said Latvala. "Today's stages are the most difficult of the rally but the weather made them even harder. In places I couldn't see because my wipers couldn't work fast enough.
"Pirelli's tyres worked well on the gravel, which they are designed for, but it was hard to stop the car in the ice and snow. It's a shame the stages were shortened and cancelled because they are great roads but it was the right decision. I would have been happy on those roads with winter tyres, but not with this rubber."
Sebastien Loeb meanwhile heads the chasing pack for Citroen, the Frenchman having been eighth fastest in SS2, third in SS3, first in SS5 and second in SS6. Like Jari he had a big moment in Myherin 1.
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