TRIER, Germany - Ford World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila claimed a career-best result on asphalt when they finished second in Rallye Deutschland on Sunday.
Driving a Fiesta RS World Rally Car, the Finns overcame demanding conditions in the Mosel wine region to secure their best finish in the FIA World Rally Championship since victory in Sweden in February.
This ninth round, based in Trier in south-west Germany, marked the first pure asphalt fixture of the season and the characteristics of the speed tests changed constantly. Bumpy narrow vineyard tracks, which zig-zagged across the hillsides, contrasted with concrete kerbstone-lined roads in the Baumholder military area, which are more accustomed to hosting tank training exercises.
Drivers tackled 15 special stages covering 1113.59km during the three-day event and the notoriously inclement weather also played its part. After high temperatures during the opening leg, colder weather and rain brought an extra challenge as drivers grappled not only with slippery roads, but also the dilemma of whether to opt for Michelin’s hard or soft compound tyres in the changing conditions.
Latvala was frustrated after choosing soft settings on his Fiesta RS WRC during Friday’s opening morning but after switching to a harder set-up, the 27-year-old Finn won two stages and ended the leg in third. Unexpected rain surprised all the front-runners early in the second leg and Latvala dropped 30sec after locking his brakes in the wet, overshooting a bend and becoming stuck in a field.
He dropped to fifth, but immediately recovered to second after a blistering performance over the marathon Panzerplatte stage in Baumholder. With a large time gap to the leader and a comfortable advantage over his pursuers, Latvala took no risks yesterday afternoon and eased through today’s final leg, comprising three stages and 65.89km, to secure second.
“It feels great to finish on the podium on asphalt and I’ll take great confidence from my best result on this surface,” he said. “This rally hasn’t been kind to Ford over the years so it’s a boost for everyone in the team. It was a hard event but we showed that the pace of myself and the car on asphalt continues to improve.
“The distance between ourselves and the winner was two minutes so we need to remain realistic and understand that there is still work to do. But I feel sure that we will be able to challenge for victory again on the remaining two asphalt rounds,” added Latvala.
On his first traditional asphalt event in a Fiesta RS WRC, 37-year-old Solberg was immediately on the pace. He ended the opening leg in second, but the Norwegian’s hopes of a strong result ended Saturday morning when he slid wide on a tightening left bend and hit a rock. Although he tried to continue, the damage was too great to complete the stage.
He restarted Sunday under Rally 2 regulations and won the second stage, but his disappointment could not be disguised. “It would have been fantastic for the team to have finished second and third, but the car snapped away and once I hit the rock, it was all over. Until then my rally went extremely well. The testing and hard work that we put in improved the car on this surface and I was delighted with the pace,” he said.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson said the result was a ‘big confidence boost’. “We were disappointed with our performance on the last round in Finland, so to come to an asphalt rally, where we’ve traditionally struggled, and be so competitive is pleasing. I was disappointed Petter went off but encouraged by the pace of both drivers, and I’m confident for the future on asphalt,” he said.
Ford Racing senior manager Gerard Quinn said: “Our drivers acknowledge that asphalt is their least favourite surface, so this weekend was always going to be tough. From the outset a podium was our objective and we achieved that. I’m happy with the performance of both drivers, although obviously disappointed for Petter. Considering we haven’t competed on asphalt since the opening round, I’m satisfied with a podium.”
1. S Loeb/D Elena, Citroen DS3
2. J-M Latvala/M Anttila, Ford Fiesta RS
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen, Citroen DS3
4. M Østberg/J Andersson, Ford Fiesta RS
5. C Atkinson/S Prévot, Mini John Cooper
6. S Ogier/J Ingrassia, Skoda Fabia S2000
7. A Mikkelsen/O Floene, Skoda Fabia S2000
8. N Al Attiyah/G Bernacchini, Citroen DS3
9. D Sordo/C Del Barrio, Mini John Cooper
10 M Arzeno/R Jamoul , Peugeot 207 S2000
1. S Loeb 199pts
2. M Hirvonen 145pts
3. P Solberg 104pts
4. M Østberg 102pts
5. J-M Latvala 87pts
6. E Novikov 55pts
1. Citroen Total WRT 320pts
2. Ford WRT 197pts
3. M-Sport Ford WRT 115pts
4. Qatar WRT 59pts
5. Citroen Junior WRT 54pts
6. Adapta WRT 49pts
The championship returns to gravel next month when Wales Rally GB moves forward from its traditional date as the final round. The event is based in Cardiff from 13 - 16 September.