SWANSEA // The sun shone over the Welsh Valleys yesterday but for the BP-Ford Abu Dhabi team the flames have been virtually extinguished on hopes of retaining the World Manufacturers Championship. Needing to fill the first two places in Wales Rally GB - the season's final event - Jari-Matti Latvala was holding up his end by retaining the lead with eight stages to go before today's finish, but his partner, fellow Finn Mikko Hirvonen, was languishing in 13th - his rally hopes all but over when he rolled his Ford Focus on Friday, losing almost five minutes in the process.
To compound the team's misery the two Citroen drivers, world champion Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo were holding second and third places respectively. The Abu Dhabi team need them to finish outside of the top eight - and Latvala and Hirvonen to finish in the top two - to clinch the manufacturers' title for a third successive time. The team haven't completely given up hope but Latvala admitted: "It's going to be very difficult now. I think the best thing for me to do for the team is win this rally."
Yesterday's early morning stages were as treacherous as the previous day's with sheet ice covering the roads that wound through the beautiful Welsh countryside. "You think that the road is safe then suddenly you're skating on ice," said Latvala. "But that's rallying. That's why it's so exciting." The United Arab Emirates' Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi was standing in a very creditable 18th and although he said he was finding the rally "brutal" he can take great heart from the fact that more experienced drivers than him have already crashed out of the race.