Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's world title…
Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s world title challenge took yet another unexpected twist during a dramatic opening morning of Rallye de France.
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are sixth in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car with team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila one place behind, after both dropped time sliding off the road. But Ford’s Finnish pairings find themselves in a position to enhance the squad’s title aspirations following the retirement of championship leader Sébastien Loeb with mechanical problems.
After yesterday’s start ceremony in the centre of Strasbourg, capital of the Alsace region in the north-east of the country, competition began in earnest today. Drivers journeyed south-west for the first of two loops of asphalt speed tests on vineyard tracks and woodland roads in the lower slopes of the Vosges mountains. A hot, dry day was in store, but morning dampness lingered under the trees.
Hirvonen was sixth through the opening 9.68km Klevener vineyard and fifth in the following 15.45km Ungersberg. However, the 31-year-old Finn struck trouble when he clipped a bank early in the undulating 36.00km Pays d’Ormont, the longest special stage of the rally. The impact damaged Hirvonen’s front left tyre and he lost almost 50sec in the test.
Hirvonen, who had opted for Michelin’s hard compound rubber, replaced the tyre and was sixth through the 13.06km Salm test to return to the Strasbourg service park 60.1sec from the lead.
“I made a mistake a few kilometres after the start by entering a slow right corner too quickly and hit a bank,” explained Hirvonen. “The impact knocked the front left tyre off the wheel rim and it filled with mud and grass. Afterwards the steering pulled to the left and the vibration was so bad that I couldn’t see properly to drive. But everything is wide open now from a championship perspective, and I need to drive flat out with no more mistakes to try to score as many points as possible.”
Latvala gambled by opting for soft compound tyres. The 26-year-old Finn was second through Klevener and sixth in Ungersberg to hold third overall. However, he too slid off the road in Pays d’Ormont and dropped 80sec to slip to ninth. He bounced back to win Salm convincingly and climb to seventh, 19.6sec behind his team-mate.
“I played a risk card with my tyre choice. As the tyres became hot towards the end of the long stage, the back of the car started to slide and in a left hand bend, it slid away. I tried to brake but the car went off onto the grass. It was soft and the car became stuck, and spectators had to push me back on the road. I’m angry with myself, but I still feel I can take a good result. The car is stiffer than at the last asphalt round in Germany and it feels more stable, more like a race car,” said Latvala.
Leaderboard after stage 4 of 23
1. S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Citroen DS3 41min 26.6sec
2. P Solberg/C Patterson NOR Citroen DS3 41min 31.6sec
3. D Sordo/C Del Barrio ESP Mini John Cooper 41min 33.2sec
4. K Meeke/P Nagle GBR Mini John Cooper 41min 54.6sec
5. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 42min 20.1sec
6. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Fiesta RS 42min 26.7sec
7. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Fiesta RS 42min 46.3sec
8. A Araujo/M Ramalho PRT Mini John Cooper 42min 47.0sec
9. D Kuipers/F Miclotte NLD Ford Fiesta RS 42min 52.2sec
10 K Block/A Gelsomino USA Ford Fiesta RS 43min 20.4sec
For more information: Contact Mark Wilford or Georgina Finney at the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team media desk in Strasbourg Tel: + 33 3 88 35 06 02. Images available at www.worldrallypics.com/ford