BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Flying Finn, Jari-Matti Latvala, snatched an impressive win at the 60th Neste Oil Rally Finland on Saturday to become the youngest-ever driver to win the event since its launch in 1973.
Finishing 10.1 seconds ahead of the nearest challenger, Sebastien Ogier, 25-year-old Latvala now joins a long-list of Finnish past champions, which also includes teammate Mikko Hirvonen, who won in 2009.
His feat was made all the more impressive as Latvala was tasked with 'sweeping' the gravel-laden roads for many of the final day's stages, which severely cut into his lead and made his assault of the 'Jyväskylä Grand Prix' all that harder.
Latvala's sterling performance at the spiritual home of rally now marks the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-backed driver's fourth competitive win, and his second in three months after he clinched Rally New Zealand in April.
The win also capped a weekend of celebrations as ADTA marked its third anniversary in the WRC.
"It's amazing to win my home rally and it's something I have dreamed of since I was a small boy," said Latvala, who became the youngest ever WRC winner in 2008 when he clinched victory at Rally Sweden.
The eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship was an epic two-day, high action event. Witnessed by thousands of enthusiastic Finnish fans, who gave the 147.27km event an electric atmosphere, the rally is known for its roller-coaster characteristics and unpredictable terrains.
Both Latvala's Abu Dhabi teammates, Hirvonen and Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, fell victim to the devastatingly fast gravel roads, rolling their Ford Focus' in spectacular style during the first full day of competition, which forced them to retire.
As the only BP Ford Abu Dhabi team driver left to challenge for top podium spot, Finnish-born Latvala was quick to confront the opposition and, spurred on by the home crowd, took the lead in the seventh stage, which he heroically held on to for a further 12 stages – claiming his first ever Rally Finland win and maximum points for the WRC Drivers' Championship.
"To win in front of my home fans, in a country where rallying means so much to everyone, is a dream," added Latvala.
Drawing inspiration from Latvala, the Team Abu Dhabi juniors, Majed Al Shamsi, Bader Al Jabri and Sultan Al Ameri, maintained their cool in the Finnish heat, continuing to gain invaluable experience in the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi).
Leading the attack against the 14-strong FSTi field was youngest Emirati team member, Al Jabri. A high number of Finnish entries meant the Abu Dhabi hopeful was up against some of the host nation's best drivers, who had road condition familiarity on their side. Undeterred Al Jabri continued to stay in contention, recording stage times that remained in the top five throughout the day.
Al Jabri maintained consistency on the slippery and dauntingly fast gravel roads to take third place and finish on the podium in two consecutive FSTi events.
"To back up the incredible BP Ford Abu Dhabi win with a successful result from our rising star, Bader Al Jabri, is both a watershed achievement on the eve of our WRC third anniversary and also demonstrates how far ADTA's motorsports programme has developed since its inception in 2007," said Ahmed Hussein, Deputy Director General, ADTA.
Less fortunate were Al Jabri's Abu Dhabi teammates, Al Ameri and Al Shamsi. Having produced solid and mature performances throughout the rally's high octane drama, they too succumbed to the lightening quick gravel terrain, both retiring in stage 16.
The WRC action now moves on to Trier in Germany, where the BP Ford Abu Dhabi and Team Abu Dhabi juniors will continue their campaigns at ADAC Rally Deutschland.
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