Jari-Matti Latvala has done something he hadn't managed for 217 days when he claimed victory on Wales Rally GB this afternoon, his first in the FIA World Rally Championship since Rally Sweden seven months and four days ago.
Co-driven by Miikka Anttila, Latvala took the lead on Friday’s third stage and gradually pulled clear at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, reaching the finish in Cardiff with an advantage of 27.8s.
Sebastien Loeb beat Latvala’s factory Ford team-mate Petter Solberg in a thrilling fight for second place, although the Citroen driver’s sequence of wins - which dates back to Philips Rally Argentina at the end of April - is now over.
Behind fourth-placed Mads Ostberg, who was hampered throughout the final day by an engine misfire, Mikko Hirvonen fought back from a frustrating rally to win the event-closing Power Stage. The result means only Loeb and Citroen team-mate Hirvonen can fight for the WRC drivers’ title on the final three rounds.
“This is a fantastic feeling,” said Latvala. “It’s one of my favourite rallies, I won it last year and it feels amazing to win again after such a big battle. To be honest this victory is for the team. They have done so much work on the car and it was working so well on this rally. I was really happy with the set-up and it was a great performance. I had some doubts after Rally Finland but to come back strong like this is really good for the championship.”
Frenchman Loeb’s capture of second came after an epic scrap with Solberg with the pairing swapping position on three occasions on the final day. Solberg started the last stage 0.1s ahead but was unable to prevent Loeb from moving in front. “I would liked to have beaten him but I lost too much time in the morning,” said Solberg. “I’m very happy for Ford but first and third should have been first and second.”
Russia’s Evgeny Novikov moved into sixth when M-Sport team-mate Ott Tanak tore the front-right wheel off his Fiesta on the repeat of the Port Talbot stage. Thierry Neuville marked his Rally GB debut by finishing seventh following an error-free performance by the Belgian youngster.
Matthew Wilson was eighth on his first start in the WRC since Rallye Monte-Carlo in January. Martin Prokop finished ninth with Nasser Al-Attiyah claiming the final drivers’ championship point when Chris Atkinson was delayed completing the last stage after damaging the left-rear suspension on his MINI John Cooper Works WRC.
Sebastien Ogier topped the Super 2000 class in his Volkswagen Motorsport Skoda as Craig Breen claimed an emotional victory in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship, three months on from the death of his close friend and former co-driver Gareth Roberts.
Brazil’s Paulo Nobre retired his MINI on the road section heading to stage 17 with a battery issue. Jan Habig, from South Africa, restarted under Rally 2 rules following his off on Saturday morning to finish 28th overall.
Sunday SWRC wrap:
Craig Breen has moved back into FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship title contention by becoming the third driver to win two rounds of this year's series following his dominant category victory on Wales Rally GB today.
The result, Breen’s first in the series since he and former co-driver Gareth Roberts triumphed on Rallye Monte-Carlo in January, puts the Irishman into joint second place in the title chase, eight points behind leader P-G Andersson.
Andersson, from Sweden, languished in sixth place at the finish in Cardiff after he damaged his PROTON’s powersteering running over a log on stage 17 following his restart under Rally 2 rules on Saturday.
Breen’s victory prompted an outpouring of emotion at the finish of the final stage as he remembered Welshman Roberts, who lost his life competing on a rally in Sicily three months ago having partnered Breen to the inaugural FIA WRC Academy title in Wales last season.
“We did the job here last year and we’ve done it again this year,” said Breen. “Everything was perfect and I couldn’t ask for more. But I miss Gareth so much and I wish he could have been here.”
Tom Cave completed an impressive SWRC debut for PROTON by finishing second with Yazeed Al-Rajhi third after the Saudi ace was handed a five-minute time penalty for two speeding offences on Saturday.
“Getting to the podium is what we wanted and what we achieved,” said Welshman Cave, who along with co-driver Craig Parry earned the Croeso Trophy in memory of Gareth Roberts as the highest-placed all-Welsh crew on the event.
Maciej Oleksowicz finished fourth with British wildcard and fellow Fiesta driver Alastair Fisher taking fifth following a close battle with Andersson on the final day.
New Zealander Hayden Paddon, who restarted under Rally 2 rules on Saturday having led after the opening stage on Friday, underlined his pace and potential by going fastest on four of Sunday’s six stages in his Skoda Fabia. “It’s a case of what might have been,” he said at the finish.
Next Round 11 Rally de France 04-07 Oct 12
Alsace is Sebastien Loeb country and it was highly fitting that the French ace secured his seventh world crown on a special stage run through the streets of his hometown of Haguenau when the region hosted its first WRC qualifier in October 2010.
With a base on the outskirts of Strasbourg, the rally utilised a remote service halt in the town of Mulhouse on day one, which quickly became swamped by enthusiastic spectators who gathered in there thousands. Indeed, the event’s central location - not to mention the Loeb factor - ensured a phenomenal turn out of fans on all three days.
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