Ford World Rally Team endured a double disappointment at Rally Italia Sardegna as both cars crashed into retirement during today’s second leg. Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson retired from second in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car after hitting a rock, following the demise of Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila who went out earlier when they struck a gatepost.
Both crews will restart this 12th and penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship tomorrow. Solberg will incur a 10 minute penalty following his retirement, while Latvala will carry a 25 minute penalty into the penultimate leg of this four-day event.
After last night’s quickfire opening leg, today’s competition covered six speed tests and 117.36km of competition. Drivers initially headed south of the rally base in Olbia, before heading to the north coast for new tests near Sassari. Three stages this morning were repeated this afternoon after which the rally returned to Olbia after the longest leg of the event.
Conditions were slippery after overnight rain and all the top drivers opted for Michelin’s soft compound tyres for the morning loop. The narrow gravel tracks were extremely slippery and a string of front-runners were forced out, while those that escaped dramas had to manage their tyres carefully as the rocky roads took tyre wear to the limit.
Solberg began the day in third and was second on the opening two stages to climb to second overall. The 37-year-old Norwegian settled for a cautious drive through the morning’s final test to reach the Sassari service zone 25.8sec behind leader Mikko Hirvonen.
“We expected tyre wear to be high because the roads were abrasive,” said Solberg. “However, the wear in the second stage was greater than we thought. I knew the final test would be difficult, so I was cautious over the initial downhill section to preserve the rubber as much as possible. But the next uphill section was very hard because I didn’t have enough grip.”
Hard compound rubber was the natural choice for the afternoon tests, and Solberg closed on Hirvonen with another second fastest time. However, just 1.4km from the end of the penultimate test he was sidelined after striking a rock, the impact damaging his car’s front left suspension and breaking the cross-member.
“I was happy with second and Chris and I decided we wouldn’t push, so I changed my driving style accordingly,” explained Solberg. “In a slow left corner the front wheel hit a rock on the inside. It was quite a shock because the rock wasn’t marked in my pace notes. The impact broke the cross-member and there was nothing more I could do.
“I was driving neatly so as not to take risks and to look after my tyres. Ironically if I had been driving faster then the car would have been more sideways going into the corner, and I probably wouldn’t have hit the rock,” added Solberg.
Latvala restarted in sixth and the 27-year-old Finn climbed to fourth in the opening stage. However, a bizarre incident early in the next test brought about his retirement.
“It was a new stage and my plan was to take back time following my puncture yesterday,” he said. “I came to a slippery downhill section on a hard surface and braked late for a tightening left corner. The car went wide and over a rock. When I came back onto the road I noticed steam from the radiator. I spoke with Miikka and looked over to his side to see if there was a warning light on the dash.
“When I looked back to the road I realised I couldn’t stop in time for the next right bend. I aimed the car straight ahead into a field but hit a gatepost, and the front right of the car was too badly damaged to continue. It was my mistake. I became distracted by the radiator issue and lost concentration. I should have focused on the driving and left Miikka to check the dashboard.
“Yesterday I made an error with my start position and broke a wheel after hitting a rock, and then this happens today. This is one of my favourite rallies and I’m disappointed at the way I made the mistakes,” admitted Latvala.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson described the day as a ‘huge disappointment’. “We paid the price for two errors. Both will restart tomorrow and the aim will be for both drivers to bring their cars to the finish on Sunday so that we can maintain our record-breaking run of manufacturers’ points finishes,” he said.
News from other Ford teams
It was a great day for M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, with Evgeny Novikov / Ilka Minor winning two stages as they climbed from seventh to second in a Fiesta RS World Rally Car. Team-mates Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk enjoyed a troublefree day to move from ninth to third. Adapta World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson held third, but a broken driveshaft left their car in two-wheel drive only this afternoon and the Norwegian driver slid to seventh. Martin Prokop / Zdenĕk Hrůza overcame a tough day in their Czech Ford National Team car to hold eighth. They lost time with a spin this morning and engine problems and a front left puncture this afternoon.
The third leg journeys into traditional Rally Italia Sardegna territory in the scenic forests south-west of Olbia. Competitors restart at 08.00 for two identical loops of three stages covering 115.92km before returning for the final overnight halt at 18.45.
Leaderboard after Day 2
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Citroen DS3 1hr 56min 25.5sec
2. E Novikov/I Minor RUS Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 57min 35.1sec
3. O Tänak/K Sikk EST Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 58min 43.8sec
4. S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Skoda Fabia S2000 2hr 00min 01.2sec
5. C Atkinson/S Prévot AUS Mini John Cooper 2hr 00min 20.4sec
6. A Mikkelsen/O Floene NOR Skoda Fabia S2000 2hr 01min 05.8sec
7. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 01min 11.5sec
8. M Prokop/Z Hrůza CZE Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 03min 38.5sec
9. K Kruuda/M Järveoja EST Ford Fiesta S2000 2hr 04min 51.7sec
10 P Solberg/C Patterson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 06min 41.2sec
For more information:
Contact Mark Wilford or Russell Atkins at the Ford World Rally Team
media desk in Olbia Tel: + 44 7770 756214. Images available at www.worldrallypics.com/ford