x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Latvala crashes as Citroen race ahead

BP Ford Abu Dhabi suffer a frustrating start to the new rallying season as Jari-Matti Latvala crashes out of contention of the Rally Ireland.

Jari-Matti Latvala crashed out of contention.
Jari-Matti Latvala crashed out of contention.

SLIGO // BP Ford Abu Dhabi suffered a frustrating start to the new rallying season on Friday night as Jari-Matti Latvala crashed out of contention of the Rally Ireland, while Mikko Hirvonen was unable to keep pace with the Citroen drivers. Heavy overnight rain made early conditions tough, but Latvala appeared to be relishing the poor weather as he set the fastest time on the opening stage. But, on the next stage, the Finn struck a rock, suffering two punctures and a damaged suspension which forced him to retire from the leg.

Ford Stobart driver Urma Aava took over the lead, but was usurped on stage four by the world champion Sebastien Loeb in his Citroen, who has won five stages in a row to take charge. The Frenchman leads teammate Dani Sordo by 44.4secs, with Hirvonen a further 20.4secs adrift. Hirvonen said finishing the event in the points was now his target. The Finn said: "Points are very important and we can't let Citroen get away."

His Emirati teammate Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi made a promising start to his campaign, lying in 12th overall, with a sixth fastest time on stage two the highlight for him. He said: "I know I have more pace and I'm just trying to balance speed and caution." Of his incident with the tree, he added: "I was coming into a corner on stage four, there was so much mud and I was trying to keep the car on the line. The car slipped out and whoosh, I lost control. We were heading for some trees on my left. At the last second I applied the handbrake and we hit a tree side-on. "It was a good decision because we were going about 50kph and if I'd hit the tree head-on at that speed the impact would have caused far more damage. "Some spectators helped push us back on to the stage but we lost around a minute - it could have been so much worse." Large amounts of standing water forced organisers to cancel stages seven and eight, meaning the rally will now be held over 17 stages. Six stages are due to be held on Saturday, with the rally finishing on Sunday in Sligo. gcaygill@thenational.ae