Jari-Matti Latvala maintained his lead at the end of the second day of the Wales Rally GB today despite allowing world champion Sebastian Loeb to claw back valuable time over the closing stages.
The Ford driver will be first on the roads tomorrow, which may prove to troublesome depending on tonight’s weather. Loeb – 7.3 seconds behind – is in touching distance of the leader and will be ready pounce on any further errors by the Finn.
Latvala lost six seconds when he skidded when on ice and collided with a roadside barrier on stage 13 earlier today, then posted a slow time on the final stage at the Millennium Stadium to cede a further three seconds to the five-time champion.
Latvala had put in a determined drive over stage 14 to hold a 10.8-second lead at the end of the final forest stage of the day and all but secure his starting position for the final day. But he could only manage the 14th fastest time in the final superspecial stage, and the Finnish driver admitted he was not too confident about leading the way tomorrow.
“I don’t want to be in front tomorrow morning,” he said. “The best place to be is behind somebody else, but if I am first out there I just have to do my very, very best.”
The Finn said of his skid on stage 13: “It was under braking and we hit sheet ice.
“I couldn’t do anything and we hit the barrier on my side of the car. Luckily we bounced back into the road so we didn’t lose too much time. It’s difficult to find the balance between attacking and staying on the road.”
Latvala’s lead is unlikely to be enough to push Ford to the top of the manufacturers’ standings ahead of Citroen, who enjoyed an 11-point lead heading into the season finale.
His team-mate Mikko Hirvonen suffered a crash yesterday which left him with a mountain to climb to comeback from 13th place.
Hirvonen laid down second-fastest times over stages 13 and 14 to move back up to ninth, but it is still unlikely to make a difference to Ford’s title hopes, with Citroen driver Loeb in second and his team-mate Dani Sordo in third.
Loeb said: “We tried to take things cautiously, while at the same time keeping an eye on the times of our rivals.
“I think we’re in a good position going into the last leg.”
Petter Solberg is fourth for Subaru, four seconds behind Sordo, while Suzuki’s Per-Gunnar Andersson moved into the top five after Mads Ostberg had to retire on stage 14 after crashing his Adapta Subaru into a ditch.
Henning Solberg is sixth ahead of a cautious Francois Duval, racing in his first event since his accident on the Rally Japan.
British driver Matthew Wilson is 10th for Stobart Ford, while MotoGP world champion Valentino Ross finished the day in an impressive 15th place, just under 10 minutes off the lead.