10 t/m 12 september 2010

WRC Rally Japan

De eindstand:

Determined Latvala fights back to earn podium in Rally Japan
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila claimed a battling podium finish in Rally Japan today after an exciting four-car fight for victory in this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finns lost the lead of the rally yesterday afternoon with a mechanical problem and a spin, but recovered superbly on today's final leg to finish third in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. Latvala's podium provided a suitable ending for Anttila, who celebrated his 100th WRC start here and his 38th birthday last Friday.

Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen started today's third and final leg north-east of the rally base in Sapporo in second place, just 3.7sec from the lead. However, difficulties with the hydraulic pump in their Focus RS WRC cost the Finns time throughout the day and they eventually finished sixth. The Ford duo won seven speed tests, Latvala claiming four wins and Hirvonen three.

Rally Japan returned to the championship after a year's absence. Fast, undulating and narrow gravel tracks provided a tough challenge for competitors in the Do-oh region of Hokkaido, the country's most northerly island. They completed 26 speed tests, covering 303.54km, including eight passes around a test inside the 67,400 capacity Sapporo Dome, usually the venue for top-flight soccer and baseball.

Latvala was fourth after the opening leg but a determined charge yesterday morning carried the 25-year-old into a slender lead. He extended his advantage until a broken front right driveshaft and a spin in the penultimate test at the Dome dropped him to fifth. However, Latvala fought back on today's final leg over eight special stages and 55.68km. Fastest time in the second pass through the day's longest stage promoted the Focus RS WRC pilot to third, and he remained there to the finish.

"It's been a strange weekend," he said. "On Friday I was a little off the pace initially but yesterday I climbed back to lead. Then I dropped back and I thought my chances of a good result had gone, but now I'm on the podium. After all that I have to be happy to finish third, even if I'm surprised.

"I took third place by winning the second pass through the long stage. I had a great rhythm and everything flowed perfectly. It was difficult to get back into the rhythm of driving on gravel having driven an asphalt rally since my win in Finland, but once I overcame that on Friday then I had good speed here," added Latvala.

Hirvonen ended Friday's opening leg in second and, despite a spin on yesterday's opening test, the 30-year-old closed the gap on the leader to just 3.7sec by last night. However, a problem with his car's hydraulic pump meant both the semi-automatic gearchange and the centre differential did not work properly throughout the day. With no opportunity to make repairs, he dropped time to eventually finish 1min 13.5sec behind the winner.

"I drove eight stages today with the gearchange and centre differential not working and that was difficult, especially on the twisty sections," he said. "When the car slowed in the twisty sections and under braking I couldn't keep the revs high enough to use the paddle shift gearchange and had to use the manual version. When I could keep the engine above 5000rpm, then the paddle shift was fine.

"But after a series of difficult rallies, it was good to be back on the pace for the first two days and fighting for the lead. The battle for victory was so close on Friday and Saturday that it was flat out all the way and it's great to be part of such a big fight," he added,

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said the result wasn't what he had hoped, but he was heartened by the pace of both drivers. "Jari-Matti's performance today was outstanding. I'm upset about his driveshaft failure because it cost a win. It was encouraging to see Mikko back in the battle with fastest times and both displayed pace that, with better luck, could have brought a win," he said.

Ford of Europe motorsport chief Gerard Quinn said: "It was encouraging that we led the rally, but also disappointing that bad luck denied us a win. However, when we look at the way in which Jari-Matti recovered from his mechanical problem to gain a podium and Mikko's return to top form, it's clear from the seven stage wins that we have again displayed our competitive consistency."

News from other Ford teams

Stobart M-Sport Ford's Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor finished seventh in a Focus RS WRC while team-mates Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin were 22nd, after restarting today under SupeRally rules after spinning into a ditch yesterday morning. Munchi's Ford duo Federico Villagra and Jorge Perez Companc were eighth. Ford Fiesta S2000 cars took first and second in the S-WRC support category. Jari Ketomaa and Mika Stenberg beat Martin Prokop and Jan Tomanek by 33.7sec.

Next round

The championship returns to asphalt later this month with a new-look Rallye de France. The rally has moved from its traditional home on the island of Corsica and will be based in Strasbourg on 30 September - 3 October.

Bron | M-Sport

Stand na dag 2:

Ford's Hirvonen poised for final day showdown in Rally Japan
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team duo Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are poised for a thrilling face-off for the podium positions in Rally Japan tomorrow after ending today's second leg in second place. The Finns will start the short final day of this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship just 3.7sec from the lead in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, with only 5.4sec covering the leading trio.

Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila looked on course to take a solid lead into the final day. They topped the leaderboard in their Focus RS WRC and were pulling clear of their rivals in the longest speed test of the rally this afternoon only for a broken front right driveshaft to halt their charge. They dropped more than 30sec during the remaining speed tests and will start the final day in fifth.

Today's action was based close to Lake Shikotsuko, south of the rally base of Sapporo. Under overcast skies and in humid conditions, drivers tackled two identical loops of three gravel tests in the forests, before returning to Sapporo Dome for two further passes over the indoor arena test. They faced 125.12km of competition, the longest day of the rally.

Hirvonen started in second but lost 10sec due to a spin in the opening stage. He reached the midpoint service in fourth, but just 5.7sec from the lead as the fight for top spot became closer than ever. The 30-year-old climbed into second on the final countryside stage and closed in on the lead by winning the final test in the Dome.

he said. "It's fantastic to drive when you have to be on the limit for every kilometre of every stage and flat out will be the only option again tomorrow. Let's see who has the last word, but I can't wait."

"The roads were dry and the surface was loose this morning and my high road position definitely cost me time. I lost time with a spin. The rear of the car jumped out of a rut and I couldn't turn into the next corner. Rather than try to recover it and risk an accident, I simply let the car spin. I haven't felt great today and haven't eaten anything all day but I feel better now. I'm confident second in the start order will be an advantage in the morning," he added.

Latvala restarted in fourth and sped to fastest time in the long Kamuycep test to climb to second. The 25-year-old Finn headed to the service park having closed the gap to leader Petter Solberg from 22.4sec to just 5.9sec. However, as the drivers reached Sapporo, Solberg was handed a 10sec penalty for a jump start to promote Latvala into the lead.

"I love these close fights!" he enthused. "Petter's penalty made the battle even closer and more interesting. My start position helped. I thought road position wouldn't make much difference but the last two stages in particular had a lot of loose gravel on the surface. The guys ahead of me had to sweep that gravel off the road and I had a cleaner and faster line."

On the second pass through Kamuycep, Latvala was six seconds faster than his rivals for victory heading into the final section when driveshaft problems intervened. He ended the stage still in the lead, but the time lost in the final countryside stage and two tests in the Dome, in which he also spun once, dropped him back.

"I was about 5km from the finish when the steering didn't feel right but I drove on to the end," he said. "The driveshaft had broken, leaving no drive to the front right wheel. There was nothing we could do for the final three stages. The car turned well into right corners, with a little oversteer like a two-wheel drive car. In left bends it understeered. It was OK in fast sections and under braking but the tighter, slower corners killed my times because I didn't have the traction.

"Sometimes life can be hard. I had a great rhythm in the stage and thought I could build a good lead, but it all turned round and on the final stages, instead of fighting for victory, I was battling to lose as little time as possible. I wasn't concerned about being first on the road tomorrow because the roads have a different surface to those of today," added Latvala.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said the team changed the transmission and suspension on Latvala's car in service tonight. "It's a shame for him, but Mikko has enjoyed a superb day. He's in a great position, but four people could still win this rally. If Jari-Matti hadn't lost more time with a spin in the Dome this evening, he could still have featured in the battle," he said.

News from other Ford teams

Stobart M-Sport Ford's Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor are seventh in a Focus RS WRC. Team-mates Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin retired from eighth in the opening stage when they spun into a ditch and were unable to regain the road. They will restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules. Munchi's Ford drivers Federico Villagra and Jorge Perez Companc are ninth.

Tomorrow’s Route

The final leg journeys north-east of Sapporo for two loops of three new stages near the towns of Sunagawa, Bibai and Naie, before returning to the city for two final tests inside Sapporo Dome. Once competitors restart at 06.00 there is no opportunity for service until after the final test. They face 55.68km of competition before the finish ceremony at 14.50.

Bron | M-Sport

Stand na dag 1:

BP Ford Abu Dhabi edge closer to Far East Victory,

BP Ford Abu Dhabi’s Flying Finns - Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala - emerged from Rally Japan’s opening day confident of making it three wins in a row at the Sapporo-based FIA World Rally Championships (WRC) tenth round.

After a dramatic day of action, Hirvonen and Latvala managed to grab competitive second and fourth positions respectively, setting them up convincingly for Rally Japan’s longest day of action on Saturday.

Separated by just 9.4 seconds from day leader, Petter Solberg, Friday afternoon saw a return to form for Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-backed Hirvonen.

Hindered by the dry, sandy tracks characteristic of the Far East test, Hirvonen started the day slightly off the pace. However, the 12-time WRC winner found his rhythm after the first service to clock up the fastest times in stages 7 and 8, putting him in a strong position to clinch his third Japan victory.

“We definitely have a solid chance of winning here. We have the speed, so everything should be there. Fingers crossed, if everything goes well, we are definitely going to go for it,” said Hirvonen, who narrowly missed out on 2009’s WRC Drivers’ Championship.

The Japanese terrain is notoriously tough and, as the cars cut up the surfaces, the stages became increasingly rutted, presenting challenges unseen on any other WRC round. Luckily, both Finns excel on gravel and adapted expertly to manage the deep groves.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi’s Latvala, who suffered an unfortunate technical failure at the start of the day, put in some consistent performances on the second running of the stages, including a win on stage 5 when he finished 2.5 seconds ahead of Hirvonen.

With two championship wins on gravel already under his belt this season, the young ADTA-backed driver continues to go from strength-to-strength as he displays an increasing maturity.

“There are really big ruts on the stages, it is more like a motorcross track in places and there are really big banks,” added Latvala. “We were worried after the first few stages, but I found my rhythm and got a good flow, so I feel quite pleased.”

As the WRC competitors finished the day contesting two speed tests on the asphalt in the Sapporo Dome, Latvala was exactly 13 seconds behind Hirvonen and a mere 1.1 seconds behind Sebastien Ogier in third.

Less fortunate was Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and his co-driver Michael Orr who succumbed to the Far Eastern elements during the morning’s opening stage.

Rolling their Ford Focus just two kilometres into their first Rally Japan, the duo had to call time on their adventure, as damage to the car was too severe to restart under SupeRally rules on Saturday.

"I entered a long, fourth gear corner a little too fast," said Al Qassimi. "The road was narrow and as the car slid into a ditch, the impact broke a brake calliper. That threw us against a tree and we rolled. The car ended on its side, right on the edge of the road. Although we weren't hurt, we couldn't get out of the car initially. The car is badly damaged on Michael's side from the impact against the tree. It's frustrating for the rally to end after just 2km, but I can't change that."

However, there is no rest for the Emirati star who will now head directly to Lebanon where he continues to contest the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) in his campaign to reclaim the title.

“I have to travel now to make it easier for me in Lebanon. It’s really difficult over there and I need to go and win,” added Al Qassimi. “When you go and do a rally like Lebanon you don’t want to back off – you have to do your best to get a good result. I will leave it a day or two to refresh my mind but I need to do something big there.”

The WRC action will continue on Saturday across eight stages covering 125.12 kilometres of gravel terrain.

Bron | M-Sport

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