It means the Finn, at the wheel of a Volkswagen Polo R, will have first choice of road position for the opening day of the FIA World Rally Championship qualifier.
With the forecast dry and hot weather, Latvala - who took 3m12.655s to complete the 3.86-kilometre stage – is likely to choose to run as far down Friday’s running order as possible to avoid sweeping the stages of loose-surface gravel.
Latvala, who won the Acropolis Rally earlier this month, gave a huge grin when he was shown his time at the end of the stage. “After the Qualifying Stage in in Greece where I made a mistake I had to do better here - and I did,” he told wrc.com. “It felt good and that puts me in the best position to choose where I want to start.”
Volkswagen team boss Jost Capito was at the stage end to offer his congratulations. “I came here to see whether his performance was the same as it had been in Greece. I’m so pleased to see that it is. His driving was outstanding and it has given him the widest choice of start positions.”
Evgeny Novikov was second quickest, 0.690s down on Latvala’s time in his Qatar M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS. “I tried to win but second fastest is okay for me,” said the Russian. “I’m happy with at that. It’s very good to have such a choice for tomorrow.”
Latvala’s team-mate Sebastien Ogier posted the third fastest time, 1.571s down on the Finn, who won in Sardinia back in 2009. “Not so bad, it was quite a good drive,” said Ogier. “I could have been a bit faster but it was rough and narrow and it would have been really easy to take a wheel off in there.”
Mikko Hirvonen was disappointed to have set the fourth quickest time in his Citroen DS3 WRC, 1.742s slower than Latvala. “I hit a rock midway through. The time isn’t bad but it’s not good enough,” he said.
Ford Fiesta RS pilot Thierry Neuville rounded off the top-five times. “I’m not so happy with that,” he said. “I don’t have enough traction under braking, but I can’t change that now. Also I was too careful in places where I should have been faster.
Latvala and his World Rally Car rivals will select their starting positions at rally headquarters in Olbia from 1300hrs local time.
Here are the full Qualifying Stage times:
Jari-Matti Latvala: 3m12.655s
Evgeny Novikov: +0.690
Sebastien Ogier: +1.571
Mikko Hirvonen: +1.742
Thierry Neuville: +1.847
Mads Ostberg: +2.366
Dani Sordo: +2.741
Andreas Mikkelsen: +3.779
Martin Prokop: +4.997
Per-Gunnar Andersson: +6.922
Elfyn Evans: +10.689
Michal Kosciuszko: +12.380
Khalid Al-Qassimi: +14.817