BP-Ford Abu Dhabi’s Greek Tragedy Poised for Happy Ending
Al Qassimi closing in on second top ten finish of the season

Hirvonen fourth and turbo-less Latvala suffer in relentless day two drama

Tatoi, Athens. 31st May, 2008: With more drama, plot twists and incident than a Greek tragedy, BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s patched up trio of cars today faced Acropolis Rally of Greece’s 119.12km of competitive leg two stages.

A recovery certainly looked on the cards when ‘Flying Finns’, Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, finished one-two in stage eight. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority-backed drivers’ Citroen chase then continued in stage nine, with Latvala taking advantage of a puncture-impaired Loeb to move back up to fourth.

However, just as the momentum seemed to be swinging back the team’s way, mechanical problems again slowed down championship leader Hirvonen – who was forced to complete stage nine and ten without a working rear right suspension. The 27-year old dropped over two and half minutes and saw his chances of a podium place seemingly all but evaporate.

With Hirvonen’s hopes of catching the Citroen pair in limbo, Latvala finished just behind Loeb in stage ten to set the tone for what should have been an enthralling afternoon re-run of the Aghii Theodori, Pissia and Aghii Triada stages.

However, disaster struck straight after the service as Latvala’s turbo failed to start at the beginning of stage 11. The problem was beyond the tools in his Ford Focus RS and the Finn was forced to complete the afternoon re-run – over 59 kilometres of competitive stages – with no real power - a massive loss to the speed hungry Abu Dhabi man.

Hirvonen was a direct beneficiary as Latvala tumbled down the leader-board. BP-Ford Abu Dhabi’s lead driver entered the half day service in 8th place, but soon found himself back up in fourth after Citroen’s Dani Sordo – running second at the time – lost over four minutes in stage 13.

Elsewhere, the UAE’s Al Qassimi was mounting a mini revival. The Emirati outpaced Hirvonen and Loeb in stage nine and had climbed from 19th to 14th heading into the Tatoi Military Base service.

With more good times following in the afternoon, and more drivers falling victim to the Acropolis crunch, Al Qassimi had risen to the lofty heights of eleventh place by the end of the day – only 36 seconds off a second top ten finish of the season, and, more importantly, only a minute outside of the drivers’ points positions.

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi:
“These stages take so much out of you - it’s as punishing on the drivers as it is on the cars. You have to make on-the-spot decisions about whether you want to push or back off.

“The main features of this rally are the big rocks which just pound the car – it is very hard to keep the car in one piece and anything can happen. Even when you’re trying to balance your pace and being cautious, as I was in the really rough sections of stages eight and eleven, a slow, 20kph slam against a bedded rock, on the wrong angle, can end your day.

“I’m pleased with my times today but I’m still not thinking about position. To finish in the top ten I will have to push and that involves more risks. Tomorrow, I’ll try and keep a balanced pace like today, this is my strategy, and if it is working well I’ll up the pace in the fast sections and concentrate on keeping the car on the road in the rough areas.

"I've had issues with the car all day too, my launch control failed at the start of stage 11 and it was unpredictable this afternoon. I also had a spin in ten when I entered a right corner about half way through the stage with too much speed and the back slid out. So between the launch and the spin I lost about 40-50 seconds which is a shame because I was going well.

“This is - alongside Sweden - the toughest rally I have done in the WRC, but for completely different reasons. Sweden was a completely new terrain for me and a new test for my technique and ability. Acropolis is a test of both man and machine and to survive in this rally you have to stay focused and have a bit of luck with the car – hopefully mine is all being saved for tomorrow.”

Mikko Hirvonen:
“I’m definitely not going to break the car anymore… There is one very rough stage tomorrow so I’m going to take it very easy there. It’s a lot rougher than it has been for years, especially today – but I’m surprised and happy that I’m back in fourth. It’s a different rally to what I was expecting and it is not finished yet.”

Jari-Matti Latvala:
“My turbo went right before stage 11 – I heard a whoosh right before the start, so I had to go through stages 11, 12 and 13 with no turbo at all. It’s been hard work getting back to service all week for me!

“Greece is one of the toughest rounds of the year so you expect these conditions. It is very tough on the cars and drivers when you have problems here because it hits your confidence and concentration.

“I want to make good stage times tomorrow, there are some nice stages where you can boost and I want to be pushing so I can take advantage of any slip-ups from the cars in front of me.”

Day 2 Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroën C4 2h48m11.1s
2. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +28.7s
3. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Ford Focus RS +1m05.3s
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +3m01.2s
5. U Aava/K Sikk EE Citroën C4 +4m11.6s
6. M Wilson/S Martin GB Ford Focus RS +4m22.8s
7. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroën C4 +5m33.6s
8. J-M Latvala/M Attila FIN Ford Focus RS +8m51.3s
9. C Rautenbach/D Senior ZW Citroën C4 +8m58.0s
10. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen Fin Suzuki SX4 +9m13.0s

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