x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Hirvonen roll hits title hope

The good news from the opening morning of the Wales Rally GB for BP-Ford Abu Dhabi was that Jari-Matti Latvala was sitting very nicely in third position after the first three stages.

SWANSEA // The good news from the opening morning of the Wales Rally GB for BP-Ford Abu Dhabi was that Jari-Matti Latvala was sitting very nicely in third position after the first three stages across the Welsh Valleys. The bad news was that his teammate, Mikko Hirvonen, who was a comfortable 11th, rolled his car on the fifth stage - the fourth, like the first was cancelled due to the treacherous conditions - losing four minutes.

Although Ford are still in with a chance of taking the first two positions, the accident has made that hope almost redundant. They have to end the rally in first and second places tomorrow and hope that one of the two Citroens - driven by world champion Sebastien and Loeb and Daniel Sordo - does not finish in the top eight to secure their third consecutive manufacturers' world title. "The tyres are working well on the gravel, which they are designed for, but it's hard to stop in the snow," said Latvala.

The bad news for Latvala is that, as one of the leaders, he will now be one of the first drivers out in the snow and ice in today's stages, which means he will not have the benefit of following the driving line of the other drivers. Another driver not enjoying the conditions was the UAE's Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi. He described the weather - wind rain, sleet, snow and ice all rolled into one - as "brutal".

"To be honest I am not enjoying the rally at all," he said. "Staying on the road is the sole objective in some places. "Every time I think I am finding some rhythm I hit a patch of road which is pure ice and have no grip. Keeping the car under control is almost impossible." cwhebell@thenational.ae