ERC: Ketomaa takes the lead in Latvia

Jari Ketomaa has reversed an overnight deficit of 6.4s to lead Rally Liepāja-Ventspils by 12.1s, following a day of high-speed action in the ice and snow of Latvia.
ERC: Ketomaa takes the lead in Latvia

The Latvian round of the FIA European Rally Championship is proving to be something of an epic, after Finland's Jari Ketomaa managed to overturn the 6.4 second deficit he'd had to Craig Breen at the end of day 1 to finish the second day with a lead of 12.1 seconds over the Irishman in the Rally Liepja-Ventspils.

Breen was celebrating his 23rd birthday on Saturday, and started the day in fine form by topping the first two runs of the day. But a lack of speed from the normally aspirated Peugeot 207 Super 2000 meant that he then lost ground on the super-fast Neste Oil stage.

That allowed Ketomaa to take a slender one-second lead in the turbocharged Ford Fiesta RRC going into the midday service at Ventspils. When service was followed by another high-speed flat-out test on Ventbunkers followed by a repeat of Neste Oil it was evidently cruel and unusual punishment for Breen's hopes of victory.

Breen could only watch on helplessly as Ketomaa drew out a seven-second advantage, starting the Ventspils spectator stage located in the grounds of the city's artificial ski slope. Breen lost still more ground through this stage when patches of fog meant he was unable to fully commit in several corners.

Even so, Breen wasn't letting the day's setbacks spoil his birthday cheer, and he insisted that he was still in better shape at this stage of the rally than he'd anticipated.

"I never expected to be leading this rally at any stage so I'm chuffed to be in a position where I can still fight for the win tomorrow," insisted the Peugeot Rally Academy-Saint?loc driver. "The Regional Rally Car can do up to 200kph and this car is only designed to do 170kph or thereabouts," he pointed out.

"But I'm not going to throw in the towel," he added. "I'm going to go for it."

Naturally Ketomaa was in even higher spirits after his day's success. "It's a very good day and I'm very satisfied," said the Autotek Motorsport driver, whose navigator this weekend is Kimi R?ikk?nen's former co-driver Kaj Lindstr?m.

"I really enjoyed the stages when they were completely full of ice," added Ketomaa. "I hadn't driven a car since last summer before yesterday so I wasn't trying too hard because I knew the pace would come when I got into a rhythm."

Further down the running order, Alexey Lukyanuk made the most of his turbocharged Mitsubishi Lancer's top speed of 210kph to catch and pass Fran?ois Delecour's 207 Super 2000 for third place. Delecour was left ruing his decision to opt for two short-ratio gearboxes to Latvia, a choice that compromised his top-end speed.

"I was on the rev limiter so often it was crazy," said Delecour, who is now 14 seconds behind his Russian rival and the ERC Production Car Cup pacesetter going into the longest leg of the rally on Sunday.

In fifth place is Lithuania's Vytautas ?vedas is fifth, who suffered a sleepless night courtesy of overly raucous partying guests at the hotel where he was staying. The Mitsubishi driver is 9.8s clear of Jan ern?, but the Czech driver still put in second fastest times on two stages on Saturday in his family-run ?KODA Fabia Super 2000

Siim Plangi is running in seventh place, followed by Raimonds Kisiels who is the top Latvian competitor in his first outing in the MINI John Cooper Works RRC. Ukraine's Vitaliy Pushkar is ninth, followed by Latvia's Aivis Egle.

In the ERC 2WD Championship, St?phane Lefebvre holds a 10.4s-advantage over Risto Immonen (Citro?n C2 R2) and title leader Hannes Danzinger (Renault Clio R3). Lefebvre had never competed on snow and ice before arriving in Latvia, and is giving Peugeot's 208 R2 a very impressive ERC d?but this weekend.

Frigyes Tur?n is the leading Subaru Impreza driver in 12th overall, with Zbynk Baller still on course to finish in his Honda Civic. Jarosl?v Orsak is the leading GPD Mit Metal Racing Team driver in 13th, while Romanian Marco Tempestini is the top Napoca Rally Team runner in 26th.

Sunday's route starts and finishes in Ventspils with all but one stage based around the town of Kuldga to the south, where a remote service will also be held. In total there are six stages over a competitive distance of 109.18 kilometres.

Following the second Ventspils kalns spectator stage at 15:00hrs local time, the first car is due to reach the finish podium in Ventspils at 15:35hrs.

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