17 May 08
Ford Focus RS WRC drivers Jari-Matti-Latvala, Mikko Hirvonen and Gigi Galli set the three fastest times through Saturday’s opening test - and each made progress up the overall leaderboard.
Hirvonen, who leads the drivers’ championship by five points, moved up to third, while Gigi Galli jumped from sixth to fourth.
“That was quite okay,” said Hirvonen. “But the jump in the there was very big. We had early cautions in our notes but it was still like Chris Atkinson’s a few years back - we did an unbelievable jump! Luckily the car seems to be alright.”
After going off the road and losing the lead of the rally on the second stage, Latvala’s strong recovery continued on SS7. The Finn - who was 14th after SS2 - set another stage wining time and moved up to sixth. “That was the maximum,” said Latvala at the stage end. “I went a bit wide and hit a gate post there, so I need to calm down a little now. But I think it might still be possible to get a top three.”
The three Ford drivers benefited from problems for Petter Solberg who started the day third but dropped 40 seconds - and four places - through the 18km section.
Rally leader Sebastien Loeb had a trouble free run, slightly increasing his advantage over second placed Dani Sordo. Rain before the stage should have improved the road conditions slightly for Loeb - who tackles Saturday’s stages first - but at the finish the Frenchman said it had still been tricky.
An additional problem for Loeb - and the other crews - was a lack of information on the pace of other competitors because the radio communications plane was grounded and there were no split times.
“With no splits I don’t really know I’ve done,” said Loeb. “Okay, I had a clean drive but it’s still very slippery and there wasn’t enough to make much of a difference to the grip. The start was okay but after that it was very slippery. I tried hard - We’ll have to see if that’s enough.”
Loeb’s team-mate Sordo said he was satisfied with his own start to the day, but had some small handling issues. “The road is cleaning a bit, and it’s really slippery at the moment,” he said. “The car feels a bit like it did yesterday - we have a little understeer - but generally I’m happy.”