Corsica - Stobart M-Sport Ford - Day One
Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila are currently in the mix of a supreme, three-way battle for fourth place after Day One of Rallye de France–Tour de Corse, Round 13 of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Latvala lies in fifth
overall while teammates Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin are the second-best placed Stobart M-Sport Ford crew in 14th. In 16th is Barry Clark/Paul Nagle after their sensible approach to Day One which is the first on tarmac for the Scotsman in the World Rally car. Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud were unfortunate on the final stage this afternoon incurring a puncture and dropping down to 25th.
23-year-old Latvala put in a raft of consistently quick times over the day but was lucky not to get caught out during the opening sections of stage 3 with a big moment due to cold tyres after being held at the start line for four minutes. The Finn has been in a day-long battle with the two works Subaru drivers and is currently the meat in their sandwich as all three are separated by just 3.9 seconds.
Unfortunately an uncharacteristic error on stage 3 by Wilson saw him miss a braking point and slide off the road on the opening sections. The impact was lucky not to damage the front left suspension and fortunately the durability of the damper and the Pirelli PZero tyre – which stayed inflated to the end of the test - saw him only lose 40 seconds as spectators had to help the youngster back onto the road.
It was an unlucky error after the 21-year-old was lying in eighth after the opening two special stages this morning.
Solberg began cautiously this morning as he continued to learn the ways of driving on these tricky Corsican tests. Some small setup adjustments during midday service quickly ramped him back up to fighting pace as the Norwegian set two top ten fastest times on stages 4 and 5. Unfortunately a puncture on stage 6 saw him lose over four minutes after his car fell of its jack when he and co-driver Menkerud attempted to change the tyre during the stage.
The opening day has seen a mature drive from 26-year-old Clark as he positions himself to further up the leaderboard on tomorrow's leg. Some small setup changes to his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC during service helped immensely as the Scotsman set impressively faster times over the second pass of the morning's stages.
Last night 71 competitors cruised over the Corsican start ramp in Place Austerlitz for the final tarmac event ceremonial start of the 2008 WRC season. Clear skies were aplenty this morning as the first crew blasted out of the blocks on the opening stage at 09:18.
The day covered a total competitive distance of 119.92 kilometres over a repeat loop of three asphalt stages. Today took crews the furthest away from Rally HQ in Ajaccio Port with the final two days of action on Saturday and Sunday staged a lot closer to the island's capital.
"I have been pleased with today and it seems that even though I have been improving my pace during the day, the other guys have as well and now we are in a really exciting battle for fourth. The stages have been tricky today with a fair bit of gravel on the stages and I have really been trying hard to work on my lines and improve my driving here. I'm very happy because my gap to the leaders now after the first day is much less than in Spain."
"It started off really well today and we got into a good rhythm on the first couple of stages and climbed up into the points. Then on the third stage we hit a small tree and dropped some time and it was difficult to concentrate again fully in the afternoon. Maybe I was trying too hard to get the time back. But for tomorrow I need to start afresh, clear my head and try to get back up into the points again. I like tomorrow's stages so hopefully we can get back into the form from this morning."
"I've been quite happy with how things have gone today. OK we had a problem on the last stage with a puncture and dropped a few minutes but apart from that we've had no problems. My driving here has been much better than in Spain and you can see that from the times, which have been a lot closer to the leaders. I haven't changed many things this rally and have really tried to concentrate on improving my driving and this is definitely the plan again for tomorrow."
"It's been a fantastic day for me here. We started off cautiously as the first stage was very tricky with lots of gravel and they weren't the best conditions for me to learn how to drive the car. But the next two went really well and I was able to start to feel how the car was working. Then back in Service we made a few changes, basically making the car a bit stiffer and that worked well. I'm really happy with today's driving, the conditions were fantastic and the stages provide a real challenge so obviously I'm really looking forward to tomorrow."
Team Principal Malcolm Wilson:
"It has been another really strong performance from Jari-Matti and he has really built upon his strong final day in Spain. Already he's challenging for fourth and has been improving steadily throughout the day. It was looking good for Matt this morning and he was lucky to get away with as little damage on stage 3. Now it's time for him to re-focus and climb back up the leaderboard back into the manufacturer points again."