Jari-Matti Latvala has said his fastest time in shakedown for Rally Australia, round 10 of the World Rally Championship, was a "real confidence boost".
The Ford Fiesta RS WRC ace, yet to win in the WRC this season, set a fastest time of 1m58.9s through the 3.77-kilometre practice stage on Sherwood Forest Road, 30 kilometres from the event base in Coffs Harbour.
He was 0.2s faster than Citroen DS3 WRC privateer Petter Solberg, while world championship leader Sebastien Loeb was sixth quickest in his factory Citroen.
“It’s a real confidence boost to be fastest on roads new to us all,” said Latvala. “I am happy to be back on gravel and the fast and flowing stages here are the type of roads that I like.”
Asked whether he would be able to translate his pace in shakedown to the rally proper, Latvala said: “We know from this morning the car is going to be competitive here so fighting for victory this weekend is our only aim.”
Solberg, who is chasing his second podium of the season in Australia, said his performance in shakedown had given him a renewed sense of optimism.
“I keep up in the shakedown so that will be a big help but now we have to wait and see for the rally,” said the Norwegian. “It’s very good roads here but you need a good balance and that is what we were working on in shakedown. We are optimistic for achieving that.”
Evgeny Novikov’s preparations suffered a setback when he crashed on his second run aboard his M-Sport Stobert Ford Fiesta.
“On the second pass in a left corner we cut too much and touched a wall and the steering arm was broken so we had to stop,” said the Russian. “It was not possible to take the car from the shakedown so we didn’t drive more. The car is not bad so it is not a big problem for me.”
Jukka Ketomaki was the fastest Production Car World Rally Championship contender in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.
Rally Australia gets underway with the first of 26 stages at 19:15hrs local time today (Thursday).
Here are the top 10 times from the Shakedown session:
1. LATVALA. Ford Fiesta RS WRC. 1:58.9
2. P. SOLBERG. Citroen DS3 WRC. 1:59.1
3. H. SOLBERG. Ford Fiesta RS WRC. 1:59.6
4. OGIER. Citroen DS3 WRC. 1:59.8
5. HIRVONEN. Ford Fiesta RS WRC. 2:00.6
6. LOEB. Citroen DS3 WRC. 2:01.0
7. WILSON. Ford Fiesta RS WRC. 2:01.6
8. NOVIKOV. Ford Fiesta RS WRC. 2:04.4
9. VAN MERKSTEIJN JR. Citroen DS3 WRC. 2:05.0
10. BLOCK. Ford Fiesta RS WRC. 2:05.4
Click: wrc.com/shakedown australia
Thurs eve SS1 & SS2
Citroen drivers Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier shared the stage honours when Rally Australia got underway with two runs through the rain-hit superspecial in Coffs Harbour this evening (Thursday).
Ogier was 0.7s fastest through the first nighttime run with Loeb going quickest on the second pass 0.1s quicker than Ogier, who leads the rally outright by 0.6s.
“It was a good start but the real start is tomorrow,” said Ogier in reference to the all-gravel countryside tests that will form Friday’s route. “It was quite slippery and not easy to find the right rhythm. The car is good so I’m happy.”
Loeb said: “It was okay. I done quite a good stage, which is very specific compared to the rest of the rally. But it was really slippery, particularly on hard gravel tyres.”
Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala was third fastest on both stages. The factory Ford Fiesta driver trails leader Ogier by 2.8s in the overall classification. Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen is fourth overall.
“I was a bit stressed by how [the grip] was going to be,” said Latvala. “In a couple of places it was slippery on the braking but generally better than expected. I will go to bed with a smile.”
Petter Solberg reckoned the set-up of his privateer DS3 WRC was a little too stiff for the damp conditions but reported making no mistakes. He was fifth quickest on both runs.
Matthew Wilson suffered a spin on a left-hand bend during his first run, which inflicted his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta with a damaged front wing. He’s ninth overnight.
Young British driver Harry Hunt impressed with the fastest two-wheel-drive Production championship time on both stages, the first of which he completed 13th fastest. Pole Michal Kosciuszko leads the category outright in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.
Rain before the start had left the mainly asphalt course coated in water, which reduced grip levels and added to the challenge facing the crews. Further rain during the stage resulted in increasingly slippery conditions.
Day one of Rally Australia resumes on Friday morning with the 29.03-kilometre Shipmans stage at 10:03hrs.
Read: wrc.com/australia ss1 & ss2