Poland - Ford World Rally Team - Day Two
The Ford World Rally Team maintained its grip on first and second places during the second leg of Rally Poland today.
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen hold a 12.0sec lead over team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila,
both in Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars, after another day of incredible high-speed action through the countryside of north-east Poland.
Drivers are sampling the Polish roads in the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time since 1973 and speeds have matched those only seen in the series' fastest fixture in Finland.
Ford's flying Finns relished the challenge posed by the narrow gravel roads near Mikolajki, in the Mazurian Lake District, and required all their bravery and lightning reactions to fight off a determined challenge from their closest rival, Citroen's Dani Sordo.
Competitors on this eighth round of the championship tackled two identical loops of three speed tests north-east of Mikolajki, covering 149.44km. Overcast skies and cool temperatures failed to deter enormous crowds from lining the special stages, and the fans were rewarded when sunshine began to break through this afternoon for the first time since the practice period for the rally started on Tuesday.
Hirvonen restarted this morning with an 8.9sec lead over Latvala. After a cautious start, both quickly abandoned any thoughts of a steady drive as third-placed Dani Sordo took advantage of better road conditions to launch a fierce attack.
Latvala was forced to drive flat out through the morning loop to deter Sordo, which in turn meant Hirvonen had to step up his pace to remain ahead of his colleague. The leader ended the opening loop with a 3.0sec advantage over Latvala, but Sordo halved his overnight deficit to Hirvonen to 19.5sec.
Road conditions were more even this afternoon and the Ford duo regained the upper hand in the battle. Hirvonen won the afternoon's opening test and was faster than Latvala on the final two stages to stretch his advantage. Both pulled away from Sordo, who ended the day 38.5sec from the lead as the top three mirrored the standings after yesterday's opening leg.
"It has been fantastic, a proper fight for the lead, and I've enjoyed today so much," said Hirvonen. "This morning Sordo attacked hard in third so Jari-Matti had to drive flat out to keep ahead of him, and I had to drive at maximum to stay in front of Jari-Matti. I didn't expect that, I hoped it might be easier. I struggled a little with being first through the stages, which I also didn't expect.
The road surface was damp with hard mud on top after the rain and I was breaking up the surface to leave better grip for those behind."
"There were sections this afternoon when I was flat out, even when my pace notes suggested otherwise. It was almost insane at times – but great fun! If it is possible, then I think tomorrow's stages could be even quicker. I need to be wide awake in the morning to go flat out and then hopefully I can drive a little steadier in the afternoon. But I know Sordo will pressure us again," he added.
Latvala was equally amazed at today's pace.
"I'm a Finn and used to fast rallies but I don't think I've ever driven as fast as I did this afternoon. They were the hardest seconds I've had to fight for in my life. My only tactic was to put the right pedal down to the floor and keep it there. It was very demanding and required maximum concentration all the time. There was just one moment that I thought I might be in trouble. The car jumped out of the ruts in fifth gear over a crest and I clipped a tree with the back, but it was OK," he said.
"I had no choice but to drive hard this morning. Sordo was pushing hard and my goal was to keep him behind me to preserve our one-two on the leaderboard, so I had to keep my pace high as well. I didn't want to battle with Mikko or put pressure on him but I had to just to maintain my second place," added 24-year-old Latvala.
Ford Team Director Malcolm Wilson reflected on another perfect day for his team.
"Both Mikko and Jari-Matti delivered superb performances, especially considering the pressure they were put under this morning. Mikko has extended his lead while Jari-Matti played a crucial role by supporting Mikko and keeping his pursuer behind him," said Wilson.
The final day is the shortest of the rally. After leaving Mikolajki at 06:30, drivers tackle two identical loops of two stages before a second pass over the super special stage on the edge of the town which started the rally on Thursday evening. They face 86.86km before the finish in Mikolajki at 14:54.