Following an intense battle for the lead with ex-Ford driver and fellow Finn, Mikko Hirvonen in his new Citroën DS3, Ford World Rally Team driver Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila won Rally Sweden by jut 16.6sec on the second round of the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship. The victory in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC was Ford’s sixth consecutive success on the only true winter rally of the season.
It was Latvala’s second win in Sweden, and it came despite his comfortable lead being slashed when he hit a rock and punctured a tire shortly before the end of the final day.
New Ford team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson finished fourth in another Fiesta RS WRC, losing a potential podium when they hit the same rock, with the same outcome! However, the Fiesta RS WRC filled four of the top five places on the event.
This win was also the 50th world rally win for the M-Sport partnership with Ford that started in 1997. Although temperatures in Sweden were milder than normal, the snow- and ice-covered roads presented a tough challenge. the opening leg was based mainly in Norway but the rally returned to Sweden for the final two days of competition close to Hagfors. The drivers tackled 24 special stages covering 217 miles before the finish in the host city of Karlstad.
Latvala stamped his mark on the rally from the first moment, setting fastest time in Thursday’s qualifying. It enabled the 26 year-old to select a start position well down the running order, giving him better conditions after the loose snow was swept away by cars ahead of him.
He built a 16.8sec during Friday’s opening leg, then stretched his advantage over former teammate Mikko Hirvonen to 23sec on Saturday with careful management of the stud wear on his Michelin tires. He extended his lead to 35.6sec during sunday’s final leg, before hitting the exposed rock in the rutted snow and ice, puncturing the front right tire.
The lead was cut to just 8.4sec, but setting fastest time in the penultimate stage allowed him to pull clear again. It was Latvala’s ninth stage win of the rally.
“Four years ago I won my first world rally here and became the youngest driver to do so,” Latvala said. “To return and win for a second time is very special. After retiring from the first round last month, I was under pressure to do well. And after making a mistake by hitting a rock, I knew I had to summon some extra speed and attack hard through the penultimate stage.
“It feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I’ve learned to stay calm when things go wrong and that has paid dividends today. I knew Mikko would attack hard this morning so I was wide-awake and ready for it. I had a comfortable lead before everything changed with just two stages to go, but I kept my cool,” he added.
Urged on by his home fans, new signing Petter Solberg held second place on the opening day in Norway before a spin cost him time. He ended the leg in third and remained there on saturday, despite pressure from countryman Mads Østberg. The duo were separated by just 4.9sec when Solberg clipped the same rock as Latvala and the 37 year-old had to settle for fourth. However, he claimed bonus points by finishing second on the final Power Stage.
“I was disappointed to lose third, but I’m now third in the championship and have closed on the leader, so it was a good weekend,” he said. “I hit the same rock as Jari-Matti when I wasn’t cutting the bend but it was in the middle of the ruts and I couldn’t avoid it. It’s my first rally in the Fiesta RS WRC on the loose and I’m really encouraged to have been so competitively so quickly.
For the Citroën Total World Rally Team, new signing Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen ended their second rally with in the DS3 by securing second spot on the podium. Meanwhile reigning champion Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena maintained their overall lead in the Drivers' World Championship by finishing sixth and getting points for the best time in the Power Stage. Citroën also held onto its first position in the Manufacturers’ World Championship.
Lying second, 23sec behind Latvala on Sunday morning, Hirvonen had few illusions about his chances of making up the ground. During the first loop of the three stages, he lost about ten seconds to his rival: “I wasn’t comfortable on the first stage, we made some changes to the set-up but I found the car difficult to drive on the narrow sections.”
Sébastien Loeb, who wasn’t particularly looking forward to the Power Stage, pursued his lonely race in sixth: “I’ve rarely driven on stages as unpleasant as these. Obviously it’s very slippery but there are also large rocks everywhere, so it’s difficult to push hard without taking huge risks.”
More comfortable on his second runs, Hirvonen closed the gap to Latvala to 8.4sec after his rival picked up a puncture on Lesjöfors 2 (SS22): “It was a very complicated stage, with a lot of gravel. I felt good in the car again. Jari-Matti’s puncture put him under a little bit of pressure, but I’ll keep to my race plan. First and foremost, we have to finish the rally.”
After Latvala again gave himself some breathing space on the penultimate stage, attention turned towards the Power Stage. Having looked after his Michelin X-Ice North tires during the two long stages, Loeb decided to try and get the fastest time and the three bonus points that go with it. He achieved his goal, covering the stage one second quicker per kilometer than second-placed Petter Solberg: “I can’t be happy with the result, but we managed to achieve the best possible point scoring in the circumstances,” acknowledged the eight-time World Champion. “We still lead the World Championship going into a long series of gravel rallies. Unlike Sweden, I have always done well in Mexico and can’t wait to bounce back there.”
Runner-up Hirvonen moved into second position in the Drivers’ World Championship standings: “I can’t be totally satisfied as I didn’t win but the result is a positive one. We worked well with the team and my feeling in the car has improved. Although we are going to totally change surface for the next few rallies, all of this will be useful to me in the next event.”
Another ex-Citroën driver was battling in Sweden as Sébastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia took class victory in their Škoda Fabia.
The pair have joined the Volkswagen factory team, which is preparing for a full WRC assault in 2013 by running the VW Group’s Škoda Fabia rally cars in the Super 2000 class.
Ogier’s teammates Andreas Mikkelsen and Ola Fløene clinched third place in class and the teams left more powerful WRC cars in their wake on the way to 11th and 14th overall.
‘Rally Sweden is one of the real highlights of the World Championship season since it is only here that spiked tires are used on snow and ice throughout the event. The character is unique and it was equally important for our team to collect experience in order to be as well prepared next year with the Polo R WRC,’ explained Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen.
The two Škoda Fabias fielded by Volkswagen Motorsport took the S2000 class lead on the opening stage with Sébastien Ogier. In fact, he repeatedly moved into the leading group of the more powerful WRC. “It was a very good rally for us. I’m very happy with our class win. The conditions on the stages were better than expected and it was great fun to drive here. Our pace was very good and because our teammates were also fast the rally was interesting and informative for the entire team,” he said.
Not even a puncture on the 12th stage, or changing the fuel filter after the 18th, could slow Ogier/Ingrassia.
The 22 year-old reigning Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) Champion Andreas Mikkelsen enjoyed the stages through his Norwegian homeland on Friday and was able to match his teammate’s pace throughout, before losing time and second position in class after suffering a puncture on the 22nd special stage. “My second rally with Volkswagen was very good experience – it was obviously a great shame to lose second place within sight of the finish. Our first event last year was the first WRC rally for the team. It was great to see just how much the team has developed since then,” he said.
News From Other Ford Teams
Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson celebrated their second consecutive Swedish podium with third place in their Fiesta RS WRC after overhauling Solberg following his puncture.
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov/Denis Giraudet finished fifth, with Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor seventh in the Go Fast Energy World Rally Team car.
Also in the top 10 were Czech Ford National Team duo Martin Prokop/Zdenek Hrûza and Norway’s Eyvind Brynildsen/Cato Menkerud, taking 9th and 10th respectively.
M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tänak/Kuldar Sikk retired with engine troubles on Sunday morning, ending a frustrating rally for the Estonians who went off the road in each of the opening two legs.
Round three takes the team to North America and the opening gravel event of 2012 – Rally Mexico is based in Léon on 8-11 March.
|1.||J-M Latvala/M Anttila||FIN||Ford Fiesta RS||3hr 18min 28.3sec|
|2.||M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen||FIN||Citroën DS3||3hr 18min 44.9sec|
|3.||M Østberg/J Andersson||NOR||Ford Fiesta RS||3hr 19min 07.1sec|
|4.||P Solberg/C Patterson||NOR||Ford Fiesta RS||3hr 19min 42.6sec|
|5.||E Novikov/D Giraudet||RUS||Ford Fiesta RS||3hr 21min 09.7sec|
|6.||S Loeb/D Elena||FRA||Citroën DS3||3hr 21min 23.4sec|
|7.||H Solberg/I Minor||NOR||Ford Fiesta RS||3hr 22min 17.8sec|
|8.||P Sandell/S Parmander||SWE||Mini John Cooper||3hr 23min 37.2sec|
|9.||M Prokop/Z Hrûza||CZE||Ford Fiesta RS||3hr 23min 58.3sec|
|10.||E Brynildsen/C Menkerud||NOR||Ford Fiesta RS||3hr 24min 55.5sec|
|1.||Citroen Total WRT||65pts|
|3.||M-Sport Ford WRT||28pts|