WRC Latvala leads for Ford after day one in Mexico

CORONA RALLY MEXICO, February 29th-March 2nd 2008

2008 FIA World Rally Championship, round 3

For immediate release
Friday, February 29th, 2008




World Champion Loeb holds a close second; J-WRC lead for Ogier

Sordo, Gardemeister, Andersson and Galli suffer mechanical woes


LEON (Mexico): Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were the overall leaders of the 2008 Corona Rally Mexico after eight timed gravel special stages of the opening day in the León and Guanajuato region of Mexico on Friday.


The in-form BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team crew led from the very first stage and finished the day 9.6 seconds in front of the defending FIA World Rally Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena in their Citroën C4 WRC.


“I’ve found a good rhythm and I’m enjoying myself,” said rally leader Latvala. “My plan is to drive fast but not to take maximum risks. I don’t want to think about tomorrow or the rest of the rally too much. If you lead the rally then you have to be able to drive as first car on the road.”


“I cannot drive any faster than I am,” admitted Loeb. “I have taken great lines, made no mistakes and still the time is not there. Latvala is very fast.” 


Australia’s Chris Atkinson hung on to the final podium place and his Subaru team mate Petter Solberg managed to edge in front of Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen, when the Finn punctured a rear tyre on the fifth stage, although Hirvonen had been running at a disadvantage all day by being the first driver on the road.


Young Matthew Wilson was involved in a battle for a distant sixth place with Munchi’s Ford team driver Henning Solberg, who held the position at the end of the day. Frenchman Sébastien Ogier led the nine-car J-WRC field on his WRC debut with a Citroën C2 S1600 and held a fine 10th overall. Ogier finished the day 58.2 seconds clear of second-placed Estonian Jaan Mölder.


Thirty-nine cars began this morning, after Cypriot Spyros Pavlides was forced out of the rally when his Autotek-run Subaru sustained too much damage during an accident on the shakedown stage and was unable to be repaired.


Latvala set the fastest time in the opening Alfaro stage and edged into a three-second lead over Atkinson, but Spaniard Dani Sordo fell out of the running with a broken front left suspension wishbone. Subaru’s Petter Solberg hit a dog and suffered serious brake problems. Toni Gardemeister suffered throttle trouble and managed to continue after losing five minutes.


Frenchman Sébastien Loeb suffered a scare before Thursday’s shakedown, when his engine sustained problems and the Citroën team were forced to replace it before the ceremonial start. There was talk of a five-minute time penalty and this was imposed on the defending World Champion before the start in Guanajuato. But the team replaced the old unit before the start and the penalty was rescinded. He was fourth through the first stage, but complained of a down-on-power engine and admitted it was a risk to use the older unit.


A resurgent Loeb was fastest in the Ortega stage, but Latvala extended his overall lead to 4.9 seconds, with Atkinson, Galli and Hirvonen in close attendance. Henning Solberg bent a rear wheel and damaged his Ford’s suspension on a large rock and struggled slowly to the stage finish. Czech Jan Kopecky succumbed to oil pump-related problems.


Loeb beat Latvala by 0.5 seconds in the third El Cubilete stage and reduced the Finn’s lead to 4.4 seconds, as Atkinson, Hirvonen, Petter Solberg and Per-Gunnar Andersson completed the top six, Hirvonen losing vital seconds by running first on the road. “It is impossible to regain one minute on this rally,” said Solberg’s co-driver Philip Mills. “This is one event where we thought we would have a great chance of a top result.”


Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach had been ninth after the second stage, but left the road near the end of SS3, while Galli slid wide and needed over a minute to regain his place on the track after dropping an axle into a ditch. “It was a slow corner and I slid off into the ditch,” said Galli. I put it into reverse and tried to get out but the wheels were spinning and it took around a minute as there were not many people around.”


Petter Solberg was fastest in the fourth stage and Latvala extended his lead over Loeb to seven seconds, but Galli stopped shortly after the start with broken suspension after sliding wide on a corner. It was a miserable morning for the Suzuki duo of Gardemeister and Andersson, who both stopped with mechanical problems. Andersson suffered piston damage and will not be able to restart under SupeRally conditions.


Latvala edged a further 2.3 seconds away from Loeb in SS5, as Atkinson maintained third place and Solberg passed Hirvonen into fourth, when the Finn dropped 30 seconds with a rear puncture. The Finn, winner of the Swedish Rally earlier this month, also beat Loeb in SS6 and headed into the final two Nextel super specials of the day with an 11.2-second lead. Henning Solberg managed to slip passed Wilson into sixth place.


In the J-WRC category, French WRC debutant Sébastien Ogier was the early pace-setter despite a 10-second time penalty for a late stage arrival. Sweden’s former champion Patrick Sandell, Estonia’s Jaan Molder and Poland’s Michal Kosciuszko were his closest challengers after two stages.


Czech driver Martin Prokop rolled and managed to continue, but his car was badly damaged on the return to Leon. "I missed my braking point, went off the road and rolled,” said the Czech. “The car was in a shocking state, onlookers remarking the only intact window was the rear right side window! The inside of the car was filled with dust. I am just happy the engine is still working well.”


Ogier held 12th overall and a 22.3 second lead over Sandell at service and he extended that advantage to 40 seconds after SS4, where Mölder passed Sandell and moved into second position. The Frenchman found himself in the top 10 after five specials and extended his lead to 50 seconds after SS6.


Tomorrow (Saturday) there will be eight special stages, with action starting in the Ibarilla special at 08.24 hrs. Teams will then tackle the Duarte and Derramadero tests, before returning to the Poliforum in León for the second day’s main service. The stages will be repeated on Saturday afternoon and the competitive action will conclude with two further runs through the Nextel super special. The event is scheduled to finish early on Sunday afternoon.


2008 Corona Rally Mexico – positions at end of day 1 (unofficial @ 17.15hrs):

1. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 07                        1h 23m 38.6s

2. Sébastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (MC) Citroën C4 WRC                                                1h 23m 48.2s

3. Chris Atkinson (AUS)/Stéphane Prevot (B) Subaru Impreza WRC 2006                        1h 24m 01.0s

4. Petter Solberg (N)/Philip Mills (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 2006                                    1h 24m 40.5s

5. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 07                        1h 24m 49.2s

6. Henning Solberg (N)/Cato Menkerud (N) Ford Focus RS WRC 07                        1h 26m 22.2s

7. Matthew Wilson (GB)/Scott Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS WRC 07                                    1h 26m 31.5s

8. Federico Villagra (RA)/Jorge-Perez Companc (RA) Ford Focus RS WRC 07            1h 29m 08.6s

9. Ricardo Trivino (MEX)/Checo Salom (MEX) Peugeot 206 WRC                                    1h 31m 57.2s

10. Sébastien Ogier (F)/Julien Ingrassia (F) Citroën C2 S1600                                    1h 32m 51.6s


For further media information:
Corona Rally Mexico Media Centre, Poliforum Expo Centre, León, Mexico, Tel: + 52 (477) 7114421 or + 52 (477) 7713070, E-mail: media@rallymexico.com or ndppublicity@compuserve.com










Date issued: 29/02/2008

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