Latvala resists Citroen pressure in GB
|By Matt Beer||Saturday, December 6th 2008, 10:47 GMT|
Jari-Matti Latvala has maintained his lead in the Wales Rally GB despite pressure from the two Citroens this morning.
The Ford driver saw his advantage dramatically reduced in Resolfan as he was first to encounter the ice patches now that he is running first on the road. But he gained confidence later in the loop, winning the Halfway stage and extending his lead over Sebastien Loeb back up to 8.9 seconds by the end of Crychan.
"There was frost and the tyres can't get the grip in that," said Latvala, "and that's why it was very difficult for me in the first one and I lost some time there. In the second and third one it was getting better.
"It was a very stressful feeling the morning coming over here, because you don't know how the conditions are. But now it's easier to go to service a bit relaxed, and it should be an easier afternoon."
Citroen have insisted that their priority this weekend is to win the manufacturers' title rather than the rally, and Loeb's current second place would achieve that goal. But the world champion said he preferred to keep pushing.
"In these conditions, I prefer to do what I feel," said Loeb. "It is very tricky, so I'm trying to find a good rhythm. I think if you slow down in these conditions, it's even more difficult.
"For me, if I lose a bit of confidence and I'm not controlling the car, if I slide too much, I will not have the control. So I prefer to really stay concentrated and stay in the rhythm."
Loeb's teammate Dani Sordo had briefly leapfrogged him to take second thanks to an exceptional performance in Resolfen, where the Spaniard was 18 seconds faster than the rest of the field - moving him from a distant sixth to just 0.8 seconds behind leader Latvala.
But his pace faded in the next stage and Sordo is now 17.6 seconds adrift in third place.
"It's going well for me this morning," he said. "I think the position on the road is also good for me. In the first stage I drove really, really well."
He admitted that the team had emphasised the importance of staying on the road.
"They told us to arrive at the finish with two cars," said Sordo.
Petter Solberg is now fourth for Subaru, with privateer Impreza driver Mads Ostberg still running in fifth despite thinking he would have to retire after an engine problem developed in Resolfen.
"We tried the spark plugs and stuff, and we couldn't find anything," said Ostberg. "But then we heard some strange sounds from the fuel pump, and we thought maybe there's something wrong there, and there was. The fuel pump was actually putting too much fuel into the engine and it just drowned.
"After that we have struggled a bit. In the second stage today we just went far too slow, and I actually have the same feeling now: we're just not pushing enough."
Suzuki's Per-Gunnar Andersson has now slipped back from his amazing overnight third place to sixth, to his slight disappointment.
"I didn't expect to keep the third place all day, but it was very slippery in the first stage and in the second one I couldn't do anything," he said.
Major set-up changes have helped Henning Solberg to close on his teammate Francois Duval in their battle for seventh, with Toni Gardemeister ninth despite his Suzuki cutting out in Crychan.
Two more members of the massive Stobart contingent on this event are battling for 10th place and the honour of being the leading home driver. Barry Clark moved past Matthew Wilson this morning, but their positions were reversed again when Clark spun in SS11.
Mikko Hirvonen's recovery drive has now taken him up to 13th in the second factory Ford, with Valentino Rossi still running steadily for Stobart in 16th place, having made progress through the local drivers and Production class contenders.
"Today is a lot better because the conditions are more normal," said Rossi. "The stages are fantastic. The first one this morning had some ice, but not like yesterday, so it was possible to push more and enjoy it more."
Leading positions after SS11:
Pos Driver Car Time 1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford 1h09:58.0 2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 8.9 3. Dani Sordo Citroen + 17.6 4. Petter Solberg Subaru + 46.3 5. Mads Ostberg Subaru + 1:02.8 6. Per-Gunnar Andersson Suzuki + 1:07.0 7. Francois Duval Ford + 1:37.8 8. Henning Solberg Ford + 1:48.8 9. Toni Gardemeister Suzuki + 2:28.2 10. Matthew Wilson Ford + 3:12.5