BP-Ford ABU DHABI Dons Hirvonen & Latvala Secure rally Sardinia Podiums to Protect Series Lead
Al Qassimi recovers well to finish Sardinian debut in 16th

Olbia, Sardinia. 18th May, 2008: After a nail-biting final day’s action in Rally Sardinia, BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala finished second and third, respectively, to protect the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority-backed World Rally Championship outfit’s seven point lead at the top of the series’ manufacturers’ standings.

“I wanted the win but you can’t fault Mikko and Jari-Matti’s commitment – no-one has taken as much time out of Loeb this year as they did yesterday. They had a real go and we told them to attack hard today but unfortunately there was just too much to do,” said Malcolm Wilson, Team Director, BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team.

“Mikko’s managed to keep his lead in the championship and we’ll happily take the fourteen manufacturers’ points. With lots of strong rallies left - in Finland, New Zealand, Japan and Wales – the second half of the championship should have plenty of excitement.”

Wilson’s satisfaction at the Sardinia result was echoed by Ahmed Hussein, Deputy Director General, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority – the UAE capital body behind the WRC partnership with the championship leaders - who said: “What a rally - the drama has been unbelievable!

“With Jari-Matti’s day one puncture and spectacular day two recovery, Mikko suffering on day one as sweeper and then pushing Loeb right to the last stage, and of course Sheikh Khalid coming through his Sardinia debut – this rally typifies exactly why the UAE capital has partnered BP-Ford Abu Dhabi and the WRC, and we’re thrilled with the results.”

With Latvala and Hirvonen tied for second – 29.4 seconds behind overnight leader, Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb - at the start of the day’s 78.57km of five competitive stages, the Finns were attempting to recreate their second leg dominance.

The pair finished one-two in all six of Saturday’s stages, with Loeb – running first-on-the-road – finding no answer to the Abu Dhabi drivers’ blistering pace.

This morning got off to the perfect start for the BP-Ford Abu Dhabi men; Hirvonen - third on the road behind Loeb and Latvala - blasted the fastest time in the 19.28km Monte Olia run, 5.1sec ahead of his colleague and 10.3sec clear of the Citroen man.

Loeb bounced back to win the following 18.66km Sorilis by 3.9sec from Hirvonen with Latvala a further 0.7sec behind. The drivers returned to Olbia for service with Hirvonen 23.0sec behind Loeb and Latvala 28.5sec adrift, with a repeat of the two stages and a short test near Porto Cervo remaining.

Latvala rediscovered his speed with a storming second run through Monte Olia, finishing 2.7 sec in front of a rampaging Hirvonen and 9.5 ahead of the seemingly under pressure Loeb.

However, with Loeb again upping his pace in the second 10km Sorilis re-run, and the very short, 2.69km, Liscia Ruja stage not offering enough distance to claw back the deficit, the Finnish pair – realising the likelihood of a Loeb mistake was disappearing with every metre – slowed up and made sure of the vital podium places.

"I started flat out to try to take time out of Loeb but I realised it wasn't going to happen. I decided not to take any more risks and dropped my pace but Jari-Matti's splits were good I couldn't ease off too much,” said Hirvonen.

“I needed more speed on Friday but after my disappointment then, this has been a good rally. If I continue to lead the championship and be first in the start order, then I need to find more speed on the first day when conditions are usually slippery. I'm a little disappointed but if I can't win, then I need to take second and that's what I've done here.”

It could have all been so different for Latvala. A puncture on the second stage during day one cost him over 90 seconds, a loss which should have ruled him of contention completely. However, the 23-year old enhanced his burgeoning WRC reputation by pushing the Sardinia contest right to the wire.

"It’s been an eventful rally. Yesterday was amazing and I literally pushed my hardest all day,” said the young Finn.

“I was tracking Mikko's split times during the last three stages and followed his pace but I didn't want to take stupid risks to try to pass him - I saw that I couldn't catch him by the middle of stage 16 so I started to ease off. Mikko won the fight on the morning stages and second belonged to him.

“I said at the start of the week a podium was what I was aiming for, and I’ve achieved that – the job is done,” added Latvala.

It wasn’t an easy Sardinia debut for the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and his co-driver Michael Orr. Al Qassimi was forced to retire from day one after breaking his Abu Dhabi branded car’s steering arm in a heavy collision with a bedded rock, and although he re-started day two in 33rd place after a SupeRally time penalty, the Emirati never really rediscovered his confidence in the slippery, narrow hills until the event’s final stages.

"I didn’t drive well this morning, the stages were narrow and I wasn’t confident. Things were much better in the afternoon - I built my confidence up and started getting full sideways movement in the car,” said Al Qassimi, who eventually finished 16th.

“I went 50 and 27 seconds faster in this afternoon’s stage 15 and 16 re-runs – I had a really good feel for the car and I wish the rally was starting now. Earlier in the event, some of the turns were so tight the car barely got through – it wasn’t easy and driving in this rally for the first time with new pace notes has been a real learning curve.

“Before Greece I need to sit down with my mechanics and make sure these settings are now stored for future rallies – it’s important to learn and absorb everything, from car settings to cornering techniques,” he added.

Rally Sardinia was the first of three Mediterranean rallies in five weekends – the series moves on to Greece for round seven and Turkey for round eight in the next month - and Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority officials are confident the team will pick up enough points to main the pursuit of a third consecutive manufacturers’ crown.

Final positions
1. S Loeb/D Elena 3hr 57min 17.2sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen 3hr 57min 27.8sec
3. J-M Latvala/M Anttila 3hr 57min 32.5sec
4. G Galli/G Bernacchini 3hr 58min 59.7sec
5. D Sordo/M Marti 3hr 59min 22.8sec
6. C Atkinson/S Prevot 4hr 02min 25.8sec
7. H Solberg/C Menkerud 4hr 03min 18.2sec
8. U Aava/K Sikk 4hr 03min 38.5sec
9. P-G Andersson/J Andersson 4hr 05min 05.9sec
10 P Solberg/P Mills 4hr 06min 58.2sec

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