Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala has won Wales Rally GB to claim his first victory of the season.
Latvala took the lead initially on Thursday, before dropping behind championship protagonists Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen in SS3. He then moved back up to second though, when his team-mate went off in SS7 and damaged his radiator. That incident put Mikko out of the title fight and handed Loeb his eighth successive WRC drivers' crown.
At the end of Friday, Latvala trailed Loeb by just 1.1 seconds. However, an error in the first test on Saturday cost the Finn around 9 seconds and seemingly put him on the back-foot, until he won all three stages on the repeat loop, turning a 7.3 second deficit into a 6.1 second advantage.
The fight looked set to continue on Sunday and in the opening test of the day, Latvala was quickest again to increase his advantage to 7.5 seconds. However, following Halfway 1 the battle came to an abrupt end, when Loeb was forced out following an accident on the road section. The Frenchman collided head on with a spectators' car, which was on the wrong side of the road. No one was injured, but Loeb was unable to continue.
Latvala thus found himself way out front after SS18 and could then pace himself through the remaining five stages, eventually taking the victory by over 3.5 minutes.
“It's a great way to end the season,” said the Crash.net
columnist. “It has been a long time since my last win and I've endured some frustrating times since then, but they're now over. Everything came together during the second half of the season and I'm so pleased to win here. It's my 10th Rally GB and it's the rally where I began my WRC career in 2002, so it feels like a home event for me.
“When Seb retired this morning the pressure lifted from my shoulders. I eased my pace and didn't take any risks, although the change from driving flat out to driving more cautiously was tricky. But I found the right rhythm and kept my concentration, which isn't easy when you're not driving on the limit. The team did a great job all year and this was a brilliant way to close the season.”
Mads Ostberg took the runners-up spot, finishing the year in the same fashion as he had started it in Sweden back in February. The Norwegian ran strongly throughout in his M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta, moving up into the podium places on Friday after SS7. Despite some engine worries on Saturday afternoon he finished comfortably ahead of his team-mate, Henning Solberg in third.
“I am so happy right now,” Ostberg said. “This is the perfect end to the season. Loeb's exit was unfortunate - it was through no fault of his own so maybe we didn't deserve to finish second but I can't say that I am not happy to end the year in the same way that it started in Sweden. We pushed a lot to gain some positions on Friday and we managed to get through the last two days to move even further up the leaderboard. It's been an up and down year but overall I think everything has gone well.”
Henning meanwhile came under pressure on the final day from the hard charging Kris Meeke. Meeke cut the gap between them to just 1.8 seconds going into the event ending Power Stage. However when the Brit spun in Monument 2, he had to settle for fourth.