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GP Week : Issue 142
41 WRC WALES >> Justice at last! After a season of unrelenting and frustrating dedication to the unsuccessful championship challenge of his Ford Abu Dhabi team-mate Mikko hirvonen, 26 year-old Jari-Matti Latvala finally got his just rewards, outright victory in the four-day Wales Rally GB, on his 10th attempt. The world drivers’ championship fight was over early on the second morning when Hirvonen went off the road and damaged his car’s radiator, leaving Sebastien Loeb the title for the eighth time. Hirvonen had just taken the lead from Loeb, but when his supporting role was over, Latvala started to attack on his own account and on the third day went into a lead he held till the end. Loeb meanwhile fought hard for the satisfaction of one more victory but on the final morning suffered an accident on a non-competitive section. Ironically it was the same car he competed with in Australia. And ironically again the spectator’s car was reported to have been driven by friends of his former teammate Dani Sordo...! Loeb later confirmed that (like Hirvonen) it was because his car’s radiator had been damaged that they had been unable to continue. Latvala was now far ahead, while customer driver Mads Ostberg finished second for the second time this season, his only problem being on the Saturday when his car’s engine was running on only three cylinders: “I’m so used to driving Subarus, when such an error proves fatal. I forget that I’m now driving a Ford!” Henning Solberg took third place, his first podium finish for two and a half years. And on account of a first-stage accident by Loeb’s Citroen team-mate Sebastien Ogier, Ford finished 1-2-3 and British cars took the top the 10 placings. A road accident on the final morning was a strange way for the amazing eight-times champion to end his season, and two accidents on this event for the world champion manufacturer was even stranger but it opened up the opportunity for a challenger in the middle of the Ford and Citroen battle. The Mini cars stood by ready to pounce. Dani Sordo had gone off the road early on Day 2 after lying fifth, but already his team-mate Kris Meeke had been ahead of him. Meeke however lost over two minutes on Stage 7 when an alternator belt failed and he spent the rest of the event catching up. At the end of Day 2 Meeke was eighth; at the end of Day 3 he was fifth. When Loeb dropped out the race was on for Meeke to grab a podium position. It had been 10 years since a British driver had a top three result on this event, the year when Richard Burns had cruised to third place and won the title. This was not to be, however. Henning Solberg held his nerve, even when Meeke had closed to1.8 seconds behind him prior to the final stage. A spin on the Power Stage for Meeke however sorted it out, and gave Ford the top three places, Meeke in fourth. The performances of the Mini were encouraging, given that most of the recent testing has been on