Latvala left the overnight halt in Cardiff this morning leading by 12.1s. In largely dry conditions, the Finn bagged a further three stage bests to stretch his advantage out front to 24.5s. Team-mate Petter Solberg is second after staving off the attentions of Citroen’s world champion Sebastien Loeb, who had closed to within 3.9s of the Norwegian after the morning stages but was then unable to respond when Solberg sped up in the afternoon.
“We’ve had a good feeling today but we need to keep going and keep fighting for the victory tomorrow,” said Latvala. “When Sebastien has a nice espresso in the morning he can attack and we need to be prepared for that.”
Solberg lost time in the morning due to the set-up of his Fiesta being too soft and too low for the drying conditions. By stiffening the car at the midday service in Cardiff, Solberg was able to hit back in the afternoon with a brace of stage wins to keep Loeb 6.4s behind.
Despite ending Ford’s sequence of stage wins with the fastest time on Saturday’s second test, Loeb will start day three trailing Latvala by 30.9s after he admitted to struggling to match the leading Fiestas. “The only thing I can hope is to fight with Petter [for second] but he was very fast today and I couldn’t beat him. For the moment we are third and we didn’t find any miracle with the set-up.”
Mads Ostberg made a hugely impressive start to day two by winning the first stage to close up to third-placed Loeb. However, his decision to carry two spare tyres for the afternoon loop adversely affected his car’s handling and slowed the Norwegian’s ultimate pace. Ostberg is more than half a minute clear of Mikko Hirvonen, who has struggled to make an impact in his works Citroen.
Ott Tanak and Evgeny Novikov clocked several impressive stage times in their M-Sport Fiestas to hold sixth and seventh places respectively. Thierry Neuville, who is eighth overall, experienced a build up of mud in his Citroen on Saturday’s opener after a hole appeared. However, he was able to block the gap with paper cloths to continue building his experience of the event he is tackling for the first time.
Matthew Wilson is ninth and the top British driver in his M-Sport Fiesta with Czech Martin Prokop rounding out the top 10 in his Fiesta, which is running a new gearbox after the original faltered on Friday.
Australian Chris Atkinson has spent much of the day tweaking the set-up of his MINI John Cooper Works WRC. He completed the day with a side window missing from his car after it was blown out during a stage.
Sebastien Ogier is 12th and Volkswagen Motorsport’s sole representative still running after Kevin Abbring crashed out on Saturday’s second test. Nasser Al-Attiyah is 13th for the Qatar World Rally Team. Brazil’s Paulo Nobre is on course for a finish in his WRC Team MINI Portugal entry and is 19th overnight.
South African Jan Habig retired on the day’s opening stage when he went off the road and got stuck. He is set to return under Rally 2 regulations on Sunday.
Sunday’s action gets underway with the 17.35-kilometre Port Talbot stage at 07:18hrs.