/ Motorsport

Jari-Matti Latvala leads in Wales

Updated: Friday, 14 Sep 2012 18:27 | Comments

Jari-Matti Latvala thrived in slippery conditions in Wales
Jari-Matti Latvala thrived in slippery conditions in Wales

Jari-Matti Latvala took a firm grip on proceedings after the opening day of this year's Wales Rally GB.

The factory Ford driver, who scored his only victory of last year in this event, won the final four of the six stages overall.

Ford World Rally team-mate Petter Solberg took the initial two stage wins to lead eight-times champion Sebastien Loeb by 2.3 seconds early on, with Latvala fourth.

Finn Latvala ran wide at one point on stage two, clipping a pile of logs which saw him cross the line with a piece of wood wedged between a rim and tyre, so dropping to fourth overall, 4.4secs down.

But then Latvala took control on his favourite stage of the rally, the first run through Myherin, and over a distance of 27.88km, as Solberg lost 9.3secs.

Latvala made it a clean sweep of the afternoon stages to open up a 12.1secs cushion to Solberg, with Loeb a distant 21.3secs adrift as he struggled in the the slippery conditions.

A naturally delighted Latvala said: "I've been trying to push and I'm pleased with my performance. I haven't had this feeling for a long, long time."

Loeb, who can clinch his ninth WRC crown in Wales given he has a 54-point cushion at present over Citroen World Rally team-mate Mikko Hirvonen with three rounds remaining after the current event, has admitted to an "impossible" fight against the Ford pairing.

Loeb, however, shrugged off his sluggish performance in comparison to the Fords, and seems content to settle for a podium place after a run of five consecutive wins, and with his home event in France up next.

"I was flat out everywhere, but we have no chance (against the Fords) because the grip is so low," said Loeb.

"But I'm not concerned. I don't need to win."

Hirvonen lies fifth, 53.8secs adrift of Latvala, with the two Citroen drivers sandwiched either side of Norwegian Mads Ostberg for Adapta Ford.

Behind Hirvonen come M-Sport Ford duo Evgeny Novikov and Thierry Neuville.

Meanwhile, Waterford driver Craig Breen leads the S2000.

The Motorsport Ireland Driver of the Year takes an overnight lead of one minute and 14 seconds into Saturday's stages.

Breen had a slow start on the first of today’s six stages and after the first run he lay in third position behind New Zealander Hayden Paddon and current championship leader PG Andersson.

However, on the day’s second stage Andersson suffered wheel problems, while Paddon was stopped on the stage and lost over 12 minutes, which put Breen into the lead.

The 23-year-old established a 40-second lead at the halfway point and with his two main championship rivals out of contention, he knew taking it steady would see him secure a healthy overnight lead.

Breen and co-driver Paul Nagle did just that and continued to stretch their lead over the following three stages and lead by one  minute and 14 seconds from Yaz Al Rajhi in second, with Tom Cave further back in third.

With seven stages on Saturday, and another six on Sunday, Breen and Nagle have a long way to go, but with both Andersson and Paddon out of contention, the 25 points available for the win would push Breen to joint top of the championship with two events remaining in France and Spain.

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