Latvala Leads Ford Dominance in Sweden

Posted on 12. Feb, 2012 by in Event Coverage, Rally Sweden, World Rally Championship, WRC 2012

Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila led the Ford domination of the 2012 Rally Sweden, second round of the World Rally Championship. Latvala won the rally with a margin of 16.6 seconds after taking control during the qualifying stage – new to WRC - on Thursday.

Jari-Matti Latvala (Photo: FordWRC)

Latvala was fastest on the qualifying stage, giving the Finn first choice of road position. By smartly choosing a position down the order, Latvala was able to take advantage of a road surface swept clean by those ahead of him. “Four years ago I won my first world rally here and became the youngest driver to do so,” said Latvala. “To come back and win for a second time is very special. After retiring from the first round last month, I was under heavy pressure to do well.” With a comfortable lead heading into the final stages on Sunday, Latvala clipped a rock, getting a flat tire. However, the Finn was able to stay calm, and make the most of the remaining stages to preserve his first place position. “It feels like a heavy weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I’ve learned to stay calm when things go wrong and that paid dividends today. I knew Mikko [Hirvonen] 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,” added Latvala. Unable to catch Latvala, Hirvonen was able to hold onto a second place position to the end of the rally. Though Sweden is billed as the only true winter rally on the WRC calendar, competitors had to drive on stages with exposed gravel, doing damage to the studded tires normally used for snow and ice.

Mikko Hirvonen (Photo: Citroen Racing Media)

“It was a very complicated stage, with a lot of gravel,” said Hirvonen, after the Lesjöfors 2 stage. “I am pleased that I felt good in the car again. Jari-Matti’s puncture puts him under a little bit of pressure, but I’ll keep to my race plan. First and foremost, we have to finish the rally.” Hirvonen's finish was the lone bright spot for the Citroen team. Early problems for Sebastian Loeb - an uncharachteristic mistake costing minutes - put the Frenchman out of contention, ultimately finishing sixth, though Loeb did manage to win the Power Stage, earning three points in his bid for a ninth career WRC title. A tight battle took place for third overall between Norwegians Petter Solberg and Mads Ostberg. Solberg again showed his ability to quickly adapt to the Ford team, and held third for most of the rally, just 4.9 seconds ahead of Ostberg, until clipping the same rock Latvala hit and getting a puncture. “I was disappointed to lose third, but I’m third in the championship and closed on the leader so it was a good weekend,” said Solberg. “I hit the same rock as Jari-Matti. 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.” Solberg went on to finish second on the power stage, and is in a good position in the driver's championship heading into the first gravel rally of the year, Rally Mexico.

Petter Solberg (Photo: FordWRC)

Ford and M-Sport celebrated their 50th WRC win together, and enjoyed a stellar showing from both factory and private Ford team drivers. Ford Fiestas took seven of the top ten spots at the end of the rally, with only the two factory Citroens and the Mini of Patrick Sandell, finishing eighth. Loeb retains the lead in the driver's standings, with 39 points. He is followed by Hirvonen with 32, Solberg with 29 and Latvala with 26. Despite Ford's strong showing, Citroen still leads in teh manufacturer's standings with 65 points, while Ford is second with 55. M-Sport Ford WRT is third with 28, just ahead of the Mini World Rally Team with 26. The next event on the WRC calendar is Rally Mexico, March 8-11, 2012.    

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