There were both (quite literally) highs and lows for Ford this weekend, while as Jari-Matti Latvala fended off an army of Citroen C4s to snatch victory, his team-mate and Ford number 1 Mikko Hirvonen was left licking his wounds (not literally) after a monster shunt from the lead on Friday.
A routine Superspecial on Thursday night had given Petter Solberg the lead, but Friday’s opening stage saw Hirvonen quickly snatch it away from him, and led a Ford 1-2.
The Finn was clearly pushing to the max – he struck a post after running wide which hit his windscreen, but he continued relatively unscathed. He was fastest on SS3 despite that, and Latvala was passed by both Solberg and Sebastien Loeb.
Stage four had more changes to the leaderbord – including a rather decisive one for Ford. Hirvonen was absolutely on the limit, but 9 kilometres into the fourth stage of the rally he pushed just a little too far. Getting too sideways off a jump meant he had to correct the car’s directon on landing, but the car gripped so well it flung him back in the opposite direction and off into the undergrowth. The car launched from a ditch and rolled five times to a rest in the middle of the road.
“It was the biggest accident, I have never had one like that before,” he said. “It’s so disappointing. We had a heavy landing and the car just shot straight off the road. It landed nicely in the middle of the road, but we went straight off.
“There was nothing we could do. We had some steering lock on, but you had to have because we are flying sideways, but it pulled the car straight off the road. There was no problem with the car at all, it sometimes goes a bit stiff on the heavy landing, but there was nothing wrong with the car.”
This had let Solberg resume the lead of the rally, with Latvala up to 2nd and Dani Sordo charging into the Top 3 for the first time. Sordo’s progress continued by winning the last stage before midday service, albeit not doing enough to overhaul Latvala or Solberg in the overall standings.
Stage six saw another factory Ford rolling out of the event – but thankfully for them it was only pay-driver Khalid Al-Qassimi rather than Latvala. It were as if there were magnets attached to both the stage surface an the roof of every Ford Focus, as two stages later Henning Solberg rolled out of 5th place as well.
Latvala took the lead for Solberg after stage seven, and continued to pull away until the final stage, finishing the day with a lead of exactly 10 seconds over the Norwegian. Sebastien Ogier slowly moved past his Citroen team-mates into third by the finish, and Loeb edged out Sordo for fourth.