x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Crash hinders Latvala hopes

The BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver was leading after the first five stages at the Rally of Greece before crashing on the final stage of the day.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala was in strong position to claim a second consecutive win as he led the Rally of Greece for the first five stages yesterday - unfortunately it all went wrong in the sixth, and final, stage of the day. The Finn won the Rally of Italy in Sardinia two weeks ago and was ahead going into the last stage of the day yesterday as he enjoyed a confidence boost.

He was satisfied with his times, though he did not go flat out as some bonnet pins came off his car and he did not want to risk it flying off. But going off the track at a hairpin in the final stage cost Latvala dearly, as he was stuck for three-and-a-half minutes and had dropped down to 11th by the end of the day. Latvala slid off at the corner and the back end of his car became stuck in sand. "We went off after a long left-hand corner, as we were braking for a hairpin right," he said.

"I guess I just had too much speed. The car got stuck and even though there were people there, they couldn't push immediately and I had to get out and explain them what to do. "Of course it's disappointing but you really have to drive if you want to win - you can't just cruise around." Latvala's Ford teammate Mikko Hirvonen will instead start first today, as he leads Citroen's Dani Sordo and Sebastien Loeb who are second and third respectively.

Despite leading the times, it means Hirvonen has poorer conditions and will act as a road-sweeper, so his Citreon rivals enjoy a better - and potentially faster - surface. "Sebastien is going to be in a strong position, but if everything goes right we can have a good fight," said Hirvonen Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi finished the day eighth in his Ford, leaving the Emirati in a good position to claim a fourth championship point.

"It was a difficult morning as we expected - the temperatures here are very high so we have to be especially careful with the car," al Qassimi said. "We didn't want to make a mistake early on and count ourselves out on day one. "I'm happy with where we are at the moment, we can push on more later this weekend." The Citreon privateer Petter Solberg is fourth with his brother Henning fifth. "I have to go for a big attack now but a podium is still a possibility," said Petter.

lthornhill@thenational.ae