The 27-year-old Finn finished with a time of 2m31.8s and has earned the right to select the first starting position ahead of tomorrow’s opening day. Citroen Total World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen finished second quickest in 2m32.2s, a slender 0.2s ahead of factory Ford driver Petter Solberg who was third fastest.
“More than half the competitive distance is on the first day so the start position here makes a big difference. I really tried hard to take the fastest time and this now gives me the perfect position from which to choose where I want to start tomorrow,” explained Latvala.
Current championship leader Sebastien Loeb came through the Qualifying Stage fourth fastest, 0.9s behind pace-setter Latvala. Qatar World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville rounded off the top five, completing the 4.86-kilometre stage with a time of 2m32.9s.
Rally New Zealand debutant Ott Tanak was sixth quickest with Dani Sordo returning to wheel of a MINI John Cooper Works WRC claiming the seventh fastest time.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson commented: “Latvala’s win during Qualifying this morning marks the fifth time that Ford has been able to choose the first starting position this season. There is no doubt that the Ford Fiesta RS WRC is very fast, we just need to back it up with a strong result this weekend.”
The top 13 crews will select their starting position at 19:00hrs local time.