BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala won Rally New Zealand after a day of high drama in the four special stages near Raglan.
Latvala snatched the win on the second run of the iconic Whaanga Coast test, the very last stage of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship's fifth round. Latvala pushed hard to overtake overnight rally leader Sebastien Ogier of the Citroen Junior Team.
Latvala went into the final test 6.2 seconds behind the Frenchman who did his chances no good with a small spin early in the stage and another, three corners from the end. Ogier eventually recorded a time just under nine seconds slower than the Ford's, which gave victory to Latvala by 2.4 seconds. World champion and 2010 series leader Sébastien Loeb finished third in his works Citroen, 15.2 seconds behind Latvala.
When he reached the end of the final stage, Latvala wasn't sure he had won. “Three corners from the end (of Whaanga 2), I saw a piece of bumper on the road and knew something was happening. But I didn't know what was going on (the bumper belonged to Ogier's Citroen).
“Suddenly my co-driver Miikka [Anttila] said: 'we have won'. And we had won! There are no words to describe this. I can't believe I'm second in the championship. I wasn't the fastest here but I was the most consistent and that paid off when it mattered.”
The winning margin was the second smallest in a WRC event this century. The previous one was the 2007 Rally New Zealand where Ford's Marcus Gronholm beat Loeb on the final special stage by three-tenths of a second. Latvala's win is also significant for Ford as they overtook Lancia as the most successful manufacturer in WRC history, with 75 wins.
The Raglan stages, particularly the long and very demanding Whaanga Coast test, again determined the rally's outcome. Two years ago, mishaps on the final run through Whaanga cost the factory Fords victory, and Loeb won. This year, the tables were turned, and it was the works Citroens which were in strife, and Ford which capitalised on their misfortune.
Mikko Hirvonen finished fourth today, giving Ford a better manufacturers' championship points haul than Citroen in this event. Citroen's points from Rally New Zealand came from Loeb in third and Dani Sordo who finished fifth.
Loeb started the morning well, overtaking Ogier for the lead in the first special stage, Te Hutewai, near Raglan. Ogier, running first on the road, spun and set only the eighth-fastest time.