Latvala wins 2011 Wales Rally GB for Ford

On it's final day, the Wales Rally GB produced an unexpected finale to what had promised to be an epic two-way fight for victory between Citreon and Ford's WRC teams. Driving a Ford Fiesta RS WRC alongside navigator Miikka Anttila, Jari-Matti Latvala began the final day's six stages in a close fight with Citroen's Sebastien Loeb, who captured his eighth world title when rival Mikko Hirvonen retired on Friday morning.
He boosted his chances of victory by beating Loeb on Sunday's opening test and was virtually guaranteed the win, and his first at world level for 470 days, when Loeb retired on the road section heading to the Crychan test following a head-on collision. Latvala's capture of top spot marked Ford's third triumph in this year's WRC following wins for this team-mate Hirvonen in Sweden and Australia earlier in the campaign.
"It's a great feeling because it's been very stressful and frustrating since my last win [in Finland last season]," said Latvala, who was contesting Rally GB for a 10th time. "It's a great way to finish the season 2011. We now need to push for the world title with Ford next year."
Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena were uninjured when they collided with a motorist leaving the Halfway stage this morning although radiator damage meant the Citroen duo could not carry on. His misfortune handed second place to Mads Ostberg, who ended the season in Wales as he began it in Sweden by clinching the runner-up spot in his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta by taking the runner-up spot alongside co-driver Jonas Andersson.
"I'm so happy to be here because the last two days have been very difficult [with the engine problem we've had]," said Ostberg. "It's just a fantastic way to end the season." Ostberg's team-mate Henning Solberg hung on to the final podium place despite Kris Meeke narrowing a deficit of 45 seconds to 1.8s only to suffer a spin on the rally-closing Power Stage in his MINI John Cooper Works WRC.
"I took it very carefully on the last stage when I saw what happened to Kris," said Solberg, whose last podium was on Rally Poland in 2009. "I tried my best but now I have to work for next year and to get the sponsors so I can drive again."
Despite missing out on a podium, Meeke's heroic charge on Sunday morning netted his best result in the WRC to date and meant he finished his home round of the WRC as the top British driver. "I ran wide by not getting the grip I thought I would from the front tyres," said Meeke of his delay on the Power Stage. "I blew it but fourth place is still good."
Briton Matthew Wilson claimed fifth in the third M-Sport Stobart entry following a trouble-free day. Ott Tanak fought back to sixth following his delays on Saturday with Evgeny Novikov seventh for Team Abu Dhabi, despite a launch control glitch slowing him through stage 20.
Behind FERM Power Tools World Rally Team star Dennis Kuipers in eighth, Ken Block finished ninth for the Monster World Rally Team with Portugal's Armindo Araujo claiming the final point in his Motorsport Italia MINI.
Sebastien Ogier won the Power Stage to claim 11th spot in his factory Citroen on his recovery from his retirement on Thursday's first stage. Kevin Abbring was 11th after impressing in a Volkswagen Motorsport-run Skoda Fabia. Production Car world champion Hayden Paddon marked his debut in an R4-specification Subaru Impreza in 13th overall.
Like Ogier, Dani Sordo needed SupeRally to finish after he left the road on Friday morning. The Spaniard rounded out an encouraging first season with the MINI WRC Team by going second fastest on the Power Stage.
The 2012 World Rally Championship season gets underway with the return of the iconic Monte Carlo Rally 17-22 January.

13th November, 2011