Latvala fights back for third at tough rally Japan
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Jari-Matti Latvala snatched a third place finish in Rally Japan as teammate Mikko Hirvonen suffered mechanical trouble to slip back to sixth – a stern result as the Flying Finn was only 3.7 seconds off the pace at the start of the day.
Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) backed Latvala lost the rally lead Saturday afternoon with a mechanical problem and a spin, but recovered superbly on Sunday's final leg to finish third. Latvala's podium provided a worthy conclusion for co-driver Miikka Anttila, who celebrated both his 100th FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) start and his 38th birthday in Japan.
"It's been a strange weekend," said 25-year-old Latvala. "On Friday I was a little off the pace initially but yesterday I climbed back to lead. Then I dropped back and I thought my chances of a good result had gone, but now I'm on the podium. After all that I have to be happy to finish third, even if I'm a little surprised."
Latvala was fourth after the opening leg, and a determined charge on Saturday morning carried the four-time world rally winner into a slender lead. He extended his advantage amid an epic battle that saw the top four drivers separated by only a few seconds, until a broken driveshaft and a spin in the penultimate test at the Sapporo Dome dropped him to fifth.
Drawing on skills that have seen him win two WRC events this season, Latvala used all of Sunday's 55.68km of competitive stages, stretched across the Hokkaido countryside, to fight back. Rewarding his large Japanese fan base with a fastest time in the second pass of the day's longest stage, the rising star was promoted to third, where he remained to the finish.
"I had a great rhythm and everything flowed perfectly. It was initially difficult to get back into driving on gravel having driven on asphalt ever since my win in Finland, but once I overcame that on Friday, I had good speed here," added Latvala.
Fellow Team Abu Dhabi driver Hirvonen started the final leg north-east of the rally base in Sapporo well in contention for a third successive Japanese victory. However, an unfortunate technical problem with his gearchange and centre differential saw him finish 1min 13.5sec behind the eventual winner, Sebastian Ogier.
"When the car slowed in the twisty sections and under braking I couldn't keep the revs high enough to use the paddle shift gearchange and had to use the manual version," Hirvonen said. "Yet after a series of difficult rallies, it was good to be back on the pace for the first two days and fighting for the lead. The battle for victory was so close on Friday and Saturday that it was flat out all the way and it's great to be part of such a big fight."
Rally Japan returned to the WRC after a year's absence. Fast, undulating and narrow gravel tracks provided a tough challenge for competitors in the Do-oh region of Hokkaido, the country's most northerly island. The 70 drivers completed 26 speed tests, covering 303.54km, including eight passes inside the 67,400 capacity Sapporo Dome, usually the venue for top-flight soccer and baseball.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Flying Finns won an impressive seven speed tests between them, with Latvala claiming four and Hirvonen three.
The BP Ford Abu Dhabi team and ADTA's Abu Dhabi Junior Drivers will return to asphalt later this month at Rallye de France for the WRC 11th round and the fifth round of the Fiesta SportTrophy International. The rally has moved from its traditional home on the island of Corsica and will be based in Strasbourg from 30 September - 3 October.
Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority
Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) is a statutory body established in 2004 under the Government of Abu Dhabi's economic diversification strategy. The authority has wide-ranging responsibilities for the development and promotion of the emirate's tourism industry and international positioning as a world-class destination of distinction. Its other activities include destination marketing; infrastructure and product development and regulation, training and classification.
ADTA works closely with all the emirate's tourism industry stakeholders – both private and public sector - including aviation infrastructure and transport suppliers, airlines, destination management companies, accommodation providers and attraction operators as well as exhibition and conference organizers. Together they adopt a collaborative approach to promoting the emirate as an upmarket destination with an uncompromising determination towards sustaining and preserving its natural environment and treasured heritage and traditions.