Day of Drama for BP-Ford ABU DHABI Trio
‘Flat’ out Latvala recovers well after stage two puncture
‘Sweeper’ Hirvonen fighting for third behind Citroens

Al Qassimi crashes on stage four, will start leg two under SupeRally regulations

Olbia, Sardinia. 16th May, 2008: BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Jari-Matti Latvala threatened to leave the World Rally Championship field trailing in his wake this morning before a stage two puncture cost him over 90 seconds and the Rally Sardinia lead.

Meanwhile, first on the road as drivers’ championship leader, Mikko Hirvonen’s morning stage times were significantly slower than his Citroen rival Sebastien Loeb, largely due to the Finn ‘sweeping’ the stages for the cars behind him.

The team’s third driver, the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi – given his WRC opportunity as part of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority’s partnership with twice consecutive manufacturers’ champions BP-Ford – suffered leg one heartbreak when he collided with a rock going into a blind corner on stage four; the impact causing substantial damage to the front left side of his Ford Focus RS and ending his afternoon.

It was Latvala who had the first incident of the day though. After blitzing the Rally Sardinia’s first stage, he entered a tight right hand turn - around midway through the Crastazza second stage - with too much speed and slammed into a shallow sand bank; an impact which left the young Finn with a rear-left puncture.

The Finn recovered well in the afternoon re-run to climb from 11th to 7th place; a fitting reward for the 23-year old’s top two finishes in five of leg one’s six stages, including a two-and-a-half second victory in Terranova 2, the last stage of leg one.

“Maybe my pace notes were a little bit too quick and I went quite wide on a tight, downhill right and I hit a bank quite hard and the back left tyre came off the rim – we then had to drive 15 kilometres with a flat,” said Latvala on his puncture.

“I thought we would lose less time if we drove on because you can drive longer with a rear puncture than a front one. We lost only one minute forty seconds and to change a tyre takes two minutes, so it was the right decision.

“It’s an example of how tricky this event can be but we still have a long way to go and many chances to climb back up - I believe we can claim back time and finish with a good position and I think we’ve proved that is afternoon,” added the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority-backed driver.

Loeb took full advantage of first-out Hirvonen clearing loose gravel and rocks from the roads to post the fastest times in stages two and three. During the afternoon re-runs the Frenchman maintained the momentum and currently stands 35.7 seconds ahead of second placed team-mate Dani Sordo.

Loeb’s 58.9 seconds ahead of Hirvonen in fourth spot, while Subaru’s Petter Solberg is third - only 5.1 seconds ahead of Hirvonen.

Armed with a five point lead in the drivers’ standings, Hirvonen’s optimistic a few car set-up tweaks will help him climb a few places and claim enough points to stay in front of Loeb in their seesawing championship battle.

“It was slippery and I couldn't push any harder. At times I was driving from ditch to ditch and in places I eased off because I didn't want to go off the road,” said the 27-year old.

“This morning I'm not sure if I was losing time because I was cleaning the loose gravel or because I was breaking the damp surface and the cars behind had better grip. When you are driving it is very slippery and the rain this morning made it more difficult to judge.

“I’m going to look at my car set-up and data from the car tonight to see if I should make changes before tomorrow because I’m ready to go flat-out. Second place is the minimum of want I’m aiming to achieve this weekend,” added Hirvonen.

The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi – making his Rally Sardinia debut this weekend – entered the midday service in 14th place; only a minute behind Suzuki’s Per Gunnar Andersson in tenth place.

“The first stage was wet and I had a couple of spins where the car completely stopped. The second stage was difficult because the pace kept changing, it was fast, then slow, then medium – it’s very difficult to find any real rhythm,” said Al Qassimi.

“The third stage was really enjoyable – I had great fun. It was dry and I had to make sure I stayed on the right line because there was lots of loose gravel.

However, disaster struck Abu Dhabi’s WRC ambassador during stage four when a heavy impact with a rock leading into a blind corner forcing the Emirati to retire for the day. Al Qassimi will start leg two under SupeRally regulations, albeit with a fifteen minute time penalty for not completing stages four through six.

“We tried to lift the pace – my confidence was high, we had good grip and things were going well. I entered a blind corner around ten kilometres in to stage four that was hidden by a bush and saw this huge bedded rock - with an edge sticking out into the road – too late and hit it at speed,” said Al Qassimi.

“I damaged the front left of the car, including mechanical components like the drive shaft and steering arm – it was a bad corner and there was no way we could continue. The body of the car is fine and the team mechanics should be able to fix things up.

“I’m down because I was starting to get excited and I was gaining pace and time but this is part of rally. I’ll try to get the feeling back and as soon as my confidence returns I’ll try and get my speed back up again and give it my all,” he added.

Leaderboard after Day 1
1. S Loeb/D Elena 1hr 31min 27.6sec
2. D Sordo/M Marti 1hr 32min 03.3sec
3. P Solberg/P Mills 1hr 32min 21.4sec
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen 1hr 32min 26.5sec
5. C Atkinson/S Prévot 1hr 32min 36.6sec
6. G Galli/G Bernacchini 1hr 32min 39.9sec
7. J-M Latvala/M Anttila 1hr 32min 58.7sec
8. H Solberg/C Menkerud 1hr 33min 20.1sec
9. U Aava/K Sikk 1hr 33min 47.4sec
10 T Gardemeister/T Tuominen 1hr 33min 50.5sec

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