PHOTO: A joyous Jari-Matti Latvala (right) and co-driver Mikka Anttila celebrate their Rally de Portugal victory (Volkswagen pic)
MATOSINHOS, Portugal (Monday 25 May 2015) – Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala ended a barren stretch in the FIA World Rally Championship with a tense 8.2 second victory in Vodafone Rally de Portugal last night.
The Volkswagen driver defended a late charge by dual world champion and teammate Sebastien Ogier, with Andreas Mikkelsen coming third aboard another Polo R car in a repeat of the team’s first 1-2-3 result at Coates Hire Rally Australia last year.
Australia’s Scott Pedder got close to the end of his first WRC2 event, but was forced to retire his Ford Fiesta R5 with broken suspension on his Ford Fiesta R5 on the penultimate stage. He had been 15th overall in WRC2 at the time, having scored two top-nine stage times on Saturday.
Follow all the news on Scott Pedder’s WRC2 campaign here.
After failing to score championship points in the previous three rounds, Latvala saw a relentless Ogier gain time in two of Sunday’s three final stages in front of tens of thousands of spectators, but it was to be not quite enough after four days and 350 kms of competition on a new course in northern Portugal.
Moving back to Portuguese rallying’s spiritual northern base after 14 years years in the south of the country, the rally – including the famous, event-closing Fafe special stage and jump – was hailed a big success.
Organisers estimated two million fans turned out to watch the stages.
After dismal results in Argentina, Mexico and Sweden, Latvala’s win boosted him from ninth to fifth in the drivers’ standings, but Ogier remains clearly in the lead with 105 points, followed by Mikkelsen on 63 and the Norwegian Citroen driver Mads Ostberg, 57.
“After the last three rallies some people were doubting if I would come back,” Latvala told WRC.com.
“It was one of the worst situations in my rally career so to come and win here is unique.
“I respect this victory – it’s payback for all those who believed in me.”
It was the 13th career win for the 30-year-old Finn, who benefited from a low start position and cleaner road conditions to take the lead on Friday afternoon and was never headed.
Despite overshooting a road junction on Saturday morning, he saw off challenges from firstly Argentina winner Kris Meeke in a Citroen and then Ogier.
Tyre choice and management played a crucial role. Sandy roads hampered the early starters and exposed rocks offered further hazards during the second pass of stages.
Ogier endured the worst conditions for the opening two legs, sweeping loose gravel from roads. However, he roared up the leaderboard from sixth to second on Saturday, reducing his deficit from almost 26 sec to less than eight as he threatened to snatch an unlikely victory.
Latvala preserved enough soft-compound tyres to be able to keep his French rival at bay for the final day. Ogier started yesterday 9.5 sec in arrears, gained 1.7 sec on the first stage, dropped 2.6 sec on the second and gained 2.2 sec on the Fafe finale – where he also scooped three points for winning the Power Stage – but at the end he was just 8.2 sec short.
Mikkelsen led early on his debut in the 2015-specification Polo R and traded seconds with Meeke in their battle for the final podium place. With the gap at 0.4sec, a broken suspension anti-roll bar on Meeke’s Citroen DS3 in the penultimate stage decided the outcome.
Meeke finished 20.1 sec behind the Norwegian but the Northern Irishman, who claimed his maiden WRC win in Argentina last month, was the only man able to challenge Volkswagen’s trio.
Ott Tänak finished a confidence-boosting fifth on the debut of the new Ford Fiesta RS, ahead of Hyundai’s Dani Sordo who came out on top of a three-car battle for sixth involving teammate Hayden Paddon of New Zealand and Østberg.
Østberg lost time on Saturday with an engine turbocharger problem in his DS3 and while he overhauled Paddon yesterday, he fell just 4.3 sec short of passing Sordo too. Robert Kubica and Martin Prokop completed the top 10.
Round six takes drivers to the Mediterranean for the all-gravel Rally Italia Sardegna on 11-14 June.
RESULTS, Vodafone Rally de Portugal (Rd 5 of 13):
1. J-M Latvala/M Anttila (Volkswagen) Total time3hr30min35.3sec
2. S Ogier/J Ingrassia (Volkswagen) behind winner +8.2sec
3. A Mikkelsen/O Floene (Volkswagen) +28.6
4. K Meeke/P Nagle (Citroen) +48.7
5. O Tanak/R Molder (Ford) +1:56.8
6. D Sordo/M Marti (Hyundai) +2:27.9
7. M Ostberg/J Andersson (Citroen) +2:32.2
8. H Paddon/J Kennard (Hyundai) +2:54.3
9. R Kubica/MSzczepaniak (Ford) +4:39.1
10. M Prokop/J Tomanek (Ford) +7:31.2
FIA Drivers standings (after Rd 5):
1 Sébastien Ogier 105 points
2.. Andreas Mikkelsen 63
3. Mads Østberg 57
4. Kris Meeke 47
5. Jari-Matti Latvala 46
6. Elfyn Evans 41
7. Dan Sordo 38
8. Thierry Neuville 35
9. Martin Prokop 27
10. Ott Tanak 23
FIA Manufacturer standings (after Rd 5):
1. Volkswagen Motorsport 146 points
2. Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 103
3. Hyundai Motorsport 94
4. M-Sport World Rally Team 81
5. Jipocar Czech National Team 34
Rd 6, Rally Italia Sardegna, 11-14 June 2015