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Portugal rally: Ford teams crash

2012-03-30 18:53

WATER TORTURE:Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen (Citroen DS 3) blast through the mud and water that drowned the second day of the 2012 WRC Rally of Portugal on Friday. They finished first on the day. Image: AFP

Faro, Portugal - Ford drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg crashed on consecutive stages while leading the Rally of Portugal on Friday. Later stages were cancelled.

Overnight leader Latvala went off the road and got stuck in a ditch on stage as heavy rain, standing water and patches of thick fog made driving treacherous.

Unable to continue, the overall lead went to team mate Solberg, only for the Norwegian to suffer a similar fate on the next stage.


Ford spokesman Mark Wilford said: “Petter went off the road on the second stage this morning and couldn't get the car back on the road. He's retired from today but we hope he'll be able to restart on Saturday."

Latvala was also expected to restart on Saturday.

Mikko Hirvonen, who moved to Citroen for the 2012 season, had a lead of 36.3sec over M-Sport Ford driver Evgeny Novikov with three stages still to run on Friday but road conditions worsened and the day's remaining three stages were cancelled.

"It is so slippery, so muddy," Finn Hirvonen told the World Rally championship website. "The changes of grip are so sudden that anything is possible. I’m leading but that doesn't mean it is easy."

Hirvonen, who has yet to win for Citroen, could take the lead in the Drivers' championship after eight-times World champion Sebastien Loeb retired from the rally on Thursday after crashing.

The rally will end on Sunday.

Friday's opening three specials were all claimed by Mini driver Daniel Sordo who said after the day's fog, mud and rain-hit third special: "Conditions were really, really difficult, more difficult than the other stages. It was impossible to see the road.”

Hirvonen said: "I'm sure these are the most difficult conditions I've been driving. In some places I can't see 10 metres but you're supposed to be going flat-out. I don't like these conditions."


Thursday's opening day had already spelled disaster for eight-times World champion Sebastien Loeb.

The French ace's rally ended abruptly when in a miscommunication he turned left at a right-hand bend, spelling the premature end of his hopes of victory with his Citroen DS3 too damaged to restart.

Reflecting on the circumstances behind his rare lapse, Loeb said: "During this night special the visibility wasn't the best. We arrived at the top of a hill with a blind bend ahead.

"The road went to the right, I went left, it was down to a misunderstanding of the note," he said. "It was nothing to do with going too fast or braking too late or that I entered the turn too quickly."

Loeb has established a winning partnership with his co-driver Daniel Elena dating back 15 years and he observed: "I think this is the first time there's been a misunderstanding in the reading of a note. We just didn't undertsand each other.

"My first reaction was to give out to Daniel, there has to be a guilty party!" he added laughing. - Reuters, AFP

Standings of the Rally of Portugal after Friday's opening three special stages (remaining Friday stages cancelled):
1 Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) Citroen DS3 1hr20min1.7
2 Evgeny Novikov (RUS) Ford Fiesta RS +36.3
3 Mads Ostberg (NOR) Ford Fiesta RS +41.8
4 Patrik Sandell (SWE) Mini +3min07.2
5 Martin Prokop (CZE) Ford Fiesta RS +3min25.8

Special stage winners
Solberg 2 (1, 2)
Latvala 1 (3),
Tanak 1 (4)
Sordo 3 (5, 6, 7)

Main withdrawals: Sebastien Loeb (SS3).

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