13 Jun 08
The BP-Ford team played a tactical hand on Friday’s final stage; controlling the pace of its WRC crews to shuffle the order of the top five and ensure Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala will start Saturday with advantageous road positions.
Fourth placed Sebastien Loeb was first to arrive at the finish line and seemed resigned to the likelihood of tactical driving from those following. “It doesn’t worry me, what can I do?” he said. “In my position I can only drive and wait and see. They are behind and if they want they can see my time and drive strategically. I think they will play a bit, but it doesn’t matter.”
The Ford team played its first ace with Mikko Hirvonen, who slowed down just before the flying finish to drop 23 behind Loeb and into an eventual position of fifth. “I’m happy with the way it worked out,” said Hirvonen. “It feels strange to lose the time but that’s okay. For tomorrow’s stages I should have an ideal road position now and because I’m running later I’m better able to control the situation.”
Next to complete was Jari-Matti Latvala, who also slowed near the stage end to drop 1.1sec behind Loeb, a position which would end up as third. “We took a team decision because we didn’t want to be first on the road tomorrow,” said Latvala. “It wasn’t easy judging the pace though; I had a few moments trying not to drive too fast in there! We have a good start for tomorrow, but Sebastien is a very strong driver so I still think it will be a very interesting battle tomorrow.”
Next up was Gigi-Galli of Ford’s satellite Stobart team. Galli went into the stage ahead of Loeb by 10.3 seconds, but also dropped back behind the Frenchman at the finish line. Grinning broadly, Galli feigned surprise at the news that he was now behind Loeb. The Italian will start the second day in fourth place.
Henning Solberg in another Stobart Focus RS was the next Ford driver to complete. He remained behind Loeb - although only by one second - and holds overnight second place.
Petter Solberg is sixth in the remaining Subaru Impreza WRC2008, but said he hoped to improve on the position on Saturday. “It’s been a very difficult day,” said Petter. “I was just trying to take it a little bit carefully; there were so many bad rocks around. I know anything can happen so I’ll just keep it steady tomorrow. We’ve got nothing major planned, we just have to try and improve in small steps.”
Matthew Wilson is seventh in the last of the Stobart Fords, while Dani Sordo completed the day eighth. “Tomorrow I will try to attack a bit more,” said Sordo. “My confidence is improving, the car is good and I will have a good road position. I’ll try and make the most of it.”
Federico Villagra holds ninth in the first of Munchi’s Team cars, while Toni Gardemeister rounded off Friday’s top ten in his SX4 WRC.