x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Latvala keeps his cool in the heat

Jari -Matti Latvala eases to victory at the Rally d'Italia in Sardinia with his fellow Finnish teammate Mikko Hirvonen second.

Jari Matti Latvala, right, and his co-pilot Miikka Anttila celebrate winning the Rally d'Italia in Sardinia.
Jari Matti Latvala, right, and his co-pilot Miikka Anttila celebrate winning the Rally d'Italia in Sardinia.

SARDINIA // The sweltering sun rose early on Sardinia yesterday morning before the Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen rose to meet the challenge of securing a joyous one-two for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team in Italy. The third member of the Ford team, the UAE's Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi, endured mechanical problems to slip out of the points in finishing in 16th place. He wound up over 10 minutes behind the eighth-placed Henning Solberg, who claimed a point for winning two of the last three stages representing Stobart. Qassimi incurred a 10-minute service penalty due to steering problems on Saturday. Such misfortune proved fatal in depriving him of adding to the three points he has collected this season. Qassimi was philosophical in poring over the weekend's happenings. "It's been a bad weekend, but also good," said Qassimi. "It is good that I have done quite fast stages and times. I have kept my pace up, but in driving this kind of pace you will encounter problems. "I have to understand these things. I think Jari-Matti's performance was fantastic. He was waiting for such a result for some time." This was the sixth Rally of Italy to be hosted by Sardinia. It is Latvala's second victory after he became the youngest man to win a world championship rally in Sweden last year. There was speculation that Latvala, 24, would be forced to bow to the orders of the team manager Malcolm Wilson to allow compatriot Hirvonen through on the 17th and final stage for two extra points in the overall championship standings. Such speculation failed to materialise as Latvala sped home in first place. He finished 29.4 seconds ahead of Hirvonen. Latvala jumped out of his car and kissed the Ford badge. "Things have been on my side this weekend. It has been a fantastic few days," said Latvala. "I thank my team and Malcolm. It has been a great few days for the team in taking the first two places. "This is such an important win." Wilson himself was ecstatic when he said: "It was a great performance by both guys. We always felt we could put Sebastien [Loeb] under pressure. Full credit to these two guys." This was a day that was probably simpler than even Latvala would have foreseen. Latvala has proved himself a leading man. He led from start to finish, despite having to overcome the disadvantage of being the first car out over the past two days to provide a clearer path for the chasing pack. Latvala opened strongly winning the 13th and 14th stages to increase his overnight advantage over his compatriot Hirvonen from 9.9 seconds to 31.5 seconds by the end of stage 15. It was a winning position that he never seemed likely to relinquish. Latvala's win ends Sebastien Loeb's perfect winning run after France's world champion claimed victories in the first five rallies of the season in his Citroen. Loeb is 17 points clear of Hirvonen in the championship, whose haul of eight points carries him into second place. Loeb dropped from third to fourth place after he received a two-minute penalty for an illegal tyre change during stage 11 on Saturday. He had reclaimed third place from Norway's Petter Solberg on stage 15. Stewards decided to impose the penalty after learning that Loeb's co-driver Daniel Elena had unfastened his seat belt to ready himself for the tyre change before their car had halted. Petter Solberg moved up to third. The next rally will take place in Greece from June 12. dkane@thenational.ae