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TRIER, Germany - BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila hailed a new-found confidence on asphalt after scoring fourth place in Rallye Deutschland.
The Finns, for whom sealed surface rallies are their least favourite, battled for a podium place in their Focus RS World Rally Car throughout this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Afterwards Latvala, winner of two gravel rounds this season, admitted: "This weekend I've been more confident on asphalt than ever before. It's not my favourite surface but I had a really good feeling here and I don't feel so concerned about driving on the surface any more. This is my best result in Germany and it has given me a big boost for the two remaining asphalt rounds this season."
The rally was based in Trier, Germany's oldest city. Three days of competition, the first and last among the tricky vineyard roads on the banks of the Mosel river, offered 405.67km of competition. The middle day was the most demanding, including two passes of the 48km Panzerplatte test in the Baumholder military training area. The road surface there varied constantly, from fast, smooth asphalt to broken concrete and huge kerb stones lined the tracks ready to trap the unwary.
The abrasive road conditions, combined with air temperatures that topped 30ºC, provided a tough test for Pirelli's PZero tyres throughout the 19 special stages.
Latvala held third for virtually the entire opening day. He extended his advantage over closest rival Sébastien Ogier on day two until a spin on the first pass over Panzerplatte cost 20 seconds and a position on the leaderboard. The 25-year-old gave his all to regain the time loss but could not claw back the vital seconds on the final leg, which ended with a speed test in the streets of Trier.
"I enjoyed the weekend and I'm really pleased with my performance. I was happy to fight for the podium. This is the hardest asphalt rally of the year and I was afraid of it, but now I'm not. After my victory in Finland in the last round earlier in the month and a good test here last week, everything fell into place this weekend," added Latvala, who retains third in the drivers' standings.
Team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was also in contention for a podium place until a broken input shaft in the transmission sidelined him on day two. He returned for the final leg in eighth, but then his gearbox jammed in first gear and he retired for good.
"I braked for a tight junction after a long straight and tried to shift down, but the gearbox stuck in third," said Hirvonen. "I managed to select first before it jammed in third again, which wasn't good on a stage with so many tight junctions. I found first and drove the remaining 9km to the finish but stopped on the liaison section to the service park.”
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished eighth in the team's other Focus RS WRC. They recovered from 61st after sliding into a ditch during the opening stage on Friday.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson was pleased with Latvala's drive: "After the disappointment of the last asphalt round in Bulgaria, we came back well here. Jari-Matti's win in Finland relaxed him and it was positive for him and the team that he challenged for a podium here."
News from other Ford teams
Stobart M-Sport Ford's Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin finished sixth in a Focus RS WRC after an exciting final day fight with Kimi Räikkönen. Team-mates François Duval and Denis Giraudet retired from fifth after a heavy crash on day two while Monster World Rally Team duo Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino retired from ninth on day three with a broken alternator belt.
The championship heads to Japan next month for round 10 of the series, and the final event of the season outside Europe. Rally Japan will be held on gravel roads near Sapporo on 9 - 12 September.
1. S Loeb/D Elena – Citroen C4
2. D Sordo/ D Vallejo – Citroen C4
3. S Ogier/J Ingrassia – Citroen C4
4. J-M Latvala/M Anttila – Ford Focus RS
5. P Solberg/C Patterson – Citroen C4
6. M Wilson/S Martin – Ford Focus RS
7. K Räikkönen/K Lindström – Citroen C4
8. K Al Qassimi/M Orr – Ford Focus RS
9. M Van Eldik/R Buysmans – Subaru Impreza
10 P Sandell/E Axelsson – Skoda Fabia
1. S Loeb 191pts
2. S Ogier 133pts
3. J-M Latvala 117pts
4. P Solberg 100pts
5. D Sordo 95pts
6. M Hirvonen 86pts
1. Citroen Total 308pts
2. BP Ford Abu Dhabi 222pts
3. Citroen Junior 168pts
4. Stobart M-Sport Ford 118pts
5. Munchi's Ford 40pts