Latvala on course for maiden victory
|By Steven English||Saturday, February 9th 2008, 15:45 GMT|
Jari-Matti Latvala is on course to record his first ever world rally victory as he goes into the final day with a healthy lead over teammate Mikko Hirvonen.
Both works Ford drivers had smooth runs in this afternoon's two stages to hold their positions at the head of the Rally Sweden standings.
The Finnish pair completed the runs within a couple of seconds of each other's times, so Latvala keeps his lead at just under one minute.
Gigi Galli and Petter Solberg lie third and fourth, with the gaps between the top four drivers too big for any of them to risk pushing too hard. The battle is on for fifth place, though, with Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen homing in on Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson.
Mikkelsen, a protege of former champion Marcus Gronholm, started the day over a minute behind Wilson, but he has been taking time out of the Briton all day. He halved the gap this morning and took another 20 seconds out of the Briton during the afternoon's two stages.
Mikkelsen said: "I've been going flat out and it's been a good day. I'll keep pushing tomorrow to see if I can do it."
Wilson admitted he hasn't been on his best form today but hopes to defend his fifth place tomorrow: "Andreas is going very hard and I've just been struggling to get into a rhythm.
"I had a big hit and thought I had a puncture, so I took it easy for the next couple of corners and it turned out to be ok. We're still here, though, and we'll be in the fight tomorrow."
Sebastien Loeb retired from the rally before the start of this afternoon's stages when the team found that his damaged engine would not last the rest of the day.
The reigning champion was already down in 40th place, 25 minutes adrift, after crashing and rolling yesterday.
But Dani Sordo was still flying the flag for Citroen as he took another stage win this afternoon. The Spaniard started Rally Sweden with a five-minute penalty for changing the engine after Monte Carlo, but with several other front runners hitting problems he now finds himself in seventh place.
Toni Gardemeister lost four minutes with a crash earlier today but fought his way back to eighth place this afternoon and is in position to claim the final point for Suzuki tomorrow.
Top ten leaderboard after SS14:
Pos Driver Make Time 1. Latvala Ford 2:03:53.7 2. Hirvonen Ford + 49.8 3. Galli Ford + 1:35.9 4. P Solberg Subaru + 2:40.9 5. Wilson Ford + 4:37.6 6. Mikkelsen Ford + 4:48.1 7. Sordo Citroen + 6:51.9 8. Gardemeister Suzuki + 8:49.3 9. Hanninen Mitsubishi + 8:52.7 10. Ketomaa Subaru + 10:00.8