PHOTO: Dani Sordo is the top-placed Hyundai driver, in fourth after Saturday’s stages (Hyundai pic)
JARI-Matti Latvala has moved closer to an elusive maiden asphalt victory after controlling Saturday’s second leg of Rallye de France-Alsace.
He stretched his lead to 28.0sec after winning the opening four special stages in a Volkswagen Polo R and then throttling back as the challenge from teammate Andreas Mikkelsen faded.
Latvala won the three morning tests near Colmar, which included roads used in the Tour de France cycle race, before changing his car’s set-up in the afternoon. Fastest time on the next stage raised the lead to more than 20sec for the first time, after which Mikkelsen eased up.
Despite his advantage, Latvala will be mindful of August’s ADAC Rallye Deutschland where the Finn led on the final day but threw away his first asphalt success by crashing.
Mikkelsen, in his first full FIA World Rally Championship campaign, has his sights set on third in the series and could achieve that this weekend. Apart from suspension that was too soft this afternoon, the Norwegian had a clear run in his Polo R.
Kris Meeke was third, a further 25.7sec behind in a Citroen DS3. The Northern Irishman admitted he could not match the pace of those ahead and refused to risk a potential podium by trying, although he did puncture the front right tyre in the penultimate test.
Dani Sordo held off a charging Robert Kubica for fourth at the head of a four-car battle. He finished 0.9sec ahead of the Pole who climbed two places, despite a scare in SS9 when he clipped a wall and drove 15km with the right rear tyre of his Ford Fiesta RS partly off the rim.
Mikko Hirvonen was 12.0sec behind in sixth in a Fiesta RS.
Mads Østberg restarted in fifth but fell to the back of the quartet after rear differential problems. He incurred a 70sec penalty after checking in late for SS13 after working on his DS3 to stem an oil leak.
Eighth was Elfyn Evans, the Welshman climbing two places after Friday’s problems. He is only 12.2sec behind Østberg, with the i20s of Bryan Bouffier and Thierry Neuville completing the leaderboard.
World champion Sébastien Ogier climbed to 18th after Friday’s dramas. The Frenchman won two stages, the second of which marked his 300th career win.
Sunday’s final leg comprises two loops of two new stages through forests near Saverne, covering 63.38km. The final Power Stage offers bonus points to the fastest three drivers, but with rain forecast, there could still be a twist to this 11th round of the season.