03 June 2013 ~ 0 Comments

Moving mountains – WRC victory for Latvala and Volkswagen at Rally Greece

2013 Volkswagen Polo R WRC, Rally Greece: Latvala/Antilla

At last, he’s done it! Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila finally finished first in a round of the FIA 2013 World Rally Championship over the weekend, clinching the top podium position at the Rally Greece. Volkswagen’s fourth win from six rounds so far this season, there was more good news for the German team. Andreas Mikkelsen and Mikko Markkulatook fourth place, while leaders of the championship, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, came in tenth after, retiring from the event in day one with technical problems. The Rally Greece is considered the ultimate test in the WRC, because of its severely dusty, coarse gravelled and rocky stages. With such difficult conditions, the drivers’ starting positions on the three days of rallying played a crucial role in determining their chances.

The first day started well. Ogier and Ingrassia set the fastest time in qualifying, earning them the chance to choose their starting position for the first day of stages. Mikkelsen and Markkula were sixth, while Latvala and Antilla finished ninth. Ogier opted to start the opening leg in eleventh place, making him the last of the drivers in the WRC category. Latvala was the fourth man out onto the route, right behind Andreas Mikkelsen, who started third. But the day’s good fortune, soon diminished. Fuel pressure problems on Polo R WRC #8 saw Ogier and Ingrassia’s lead slip away. A cable connection on the car had come loose, interrupting the supply of power to the fuel pump, and even though the Volkswagen Motorsport mechanics replaced the wiring loom, a 10-minute penalty was enforced on the French pair.

But, the duo were allowed to defend their drivers’ championship points lead, restarting under Rally 2 regulations on day two of the event. Fighting their way into tenth place in the Special Stages on Saturday and Sunday, they won one point for the overall standings, while Ogier also managed to secure three points by achieving the best time in the so-called Power Stage – when additional points are awarded for first, second and third places – despite being at a disadvantage because he had to open the route. With this performance, Ogier defended his lead, and now, almost halfway through the season, he is 52 points ahead of his team-mate Latvala, who edged up to second position by winning the Rally Greece.

‘Tenth place and points for coming first in the Power Stage – that was the best we could do this time. Of course it’s frustrating to feel that both you and the car have what it takes for a podium finish, but a minor technical glitch with the power supply to the fuel pump thwarted us in the very first Special Stage. From that point on, it was all about maintaining a high speed, making it across the finishing line every day and being in the right place when our rivals were struggling. We defended our lead in the overall competition – now we have to look ahead to the coming rallies when we want to be back at the front of the pack again,’ said a disappointed Ogier.

Latvala first took on the Rally Greece at the age of 18 and achieved his first win ten years later, claiming victory in one of the classic events of the WRC. Yesterday’s Rally Greece win was the 28 year-old’s eighth race win in the championship and his third podium finish, having claimed third place in Portugal and Argentina. Latvala won four of the 14 stages, and succeeded in adapting the Polo R WRC to his style of driving by changing the set-up of the differential at the Rally Argentina and making a number of minor adjustments in Greece. This paved the way for his success. Consistency, speed and perfectly calculated risk-taking enabled Latvala to score his first ever win at the Rally Greece.

The event was a steep learning curve for Mikkelsen and Markkula. Overall fourth place is not just Mikkelsen’s biggest success in his career to date, it is also indicative of a new level of maturity. The Rally Greece was only Mikkelsen’s third rally behind the wheel of the Polo R WRC, and from tyre damage and brake problems to SS best times and playing catch-up – the it proved an emotional roller coaster for the newest Volkswagen drivers. Bad luck beset them on Saturday – an air hose came loose and punched through a brake pipe on the front right-hand side of the car, then a puncture cost them more valuable time – but Sunday brought better luck. With three best times in the Special Stages, Mikkelsen fought his way from fifth place to fourth and bagged an extra point in the final Power Stage.

Jost Capito, Volkswagen Motorsport Director, was extremely pleased with his team. ‘Winning the Rally Greece is a success for the whole team. Jari-Matti Latvala put in an absolutely perfect performance and really earned this win with patience and calculated risk-taking at the right time. The fact that a puncture would have made the difference between a win and a medal-less fourth shows just how much credit is due for this performance. I was also very impressed by Andreas Mikkelsen – he overcame all the difficulties he faced and took fourth place. Sébastien Ogier also deserves a great deal of respect for his performance – despite technical difficulties on day one, he made the best of the situation and ultimately collected valuable points for both WRC championships. Following on from this great performance across the board, I’m already looking forward to the Rally Italy in Sardinia in three weeks’ time.’

Threatening to sour the results, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi Team launched a protest against the classification of the three Volkswagen Polo R WRCs driven by Latvala and Anttila, Mikkelsen and Markkula, and Ogier and Ingrassia. The protest was rejected due to a formal error. The manufacturer then filed a further two protests against ‘Volkswagen Motorsport’ (Latvala/Ogier) and ‘Volkswagen Motorsport II’ (Mikkelsen). Both sides were summoned to a hearing to explain their viewpoints. The protests were directed at batteries, which, exclusively during Parc Fermé periods, are left in the cars overnight as spare parts and are then removed the following morning before leaving the Service Park. This has been common practice in the WRC for years. A technical delegate of the FIA approved this procedure prior to the 2013 season, upon explicit inquiry from Volkswagen. After extensive and lengthy consultation, the sports commissioners dismissed the protests as unsubstantiated.

2013 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP, RALLY GREECE: FINAL RESULTS

1 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), Volkswagen: 3h 31m 01.2s
2 Daniel Sordo/Carlos Del Barrio (E/E), Citroën: +1m 50.0s

3 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Klinger (B/F), Ford + 2m 14.1s

4 Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula (N/FIN), Volkswagen + 3m 55.1s

5 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Giovanni Bernacchini (Q/I), Ford + 4m 12.6s

2013 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP,
DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS


1 Sébastien Ogier: 126
2 Jari-Matti Latvala: 74

3 Sébastien Loeb: 68
4 Mikko Hirvonen: 61
5 Thierry Neuville: 50

2013 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP,
MANUFACTURERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS


1 Volkswagen Motorsport: 180
2 Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT: 146
3 Qatar M-Sport WRT: 83
4 Qater WRT: 71
5 Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT and Jipocar Czech National Team: 29


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